There is an urgent need for improved techniques for disease detection. Optical spectroscopy and imaging technologies have potential for non- or minimally-invasive use in a wide range of clinical applications. The focus here, in vivo Raman spectroscopy (RS), measures inelastic light scattering based on interaction with the vibrational and rotational modes of common molecular bonds in cells and tissue. The Raman 'signature' can be used to assess physiological status and can also be altered by disease. This information can supplement existing diagnostic (e.g. radiological imaging) techniques for disease screening and diagnosis, in interventional guidance for identifying disease margins, and in monitoring treatment responses. Using fiberoptic-based light delivery and collection, RS is most easily performed on accessible tissue surfaces, either on the skin, in hollow organs or intra-operatively. The strength of RS lies in the high biochemical information content of the spectra, that characteristically show an array of very narrow peaks associated with specific chemical bonds. This results in high sensitivity and specificity, for example to distinguish malignant or premalignant from normal tissues. A critical issue is that the Raman signal is often very weak, limiting clinical use to point-by-point measurements. However, non-linear techniques using pulsed-laser sources have been developed to enable in vivo Raman imaging. Changes in Raman spectra with disease are often subtle and spectrally distributed, requiring full spectral scanning, together with the use of tissue classification algorithms that must be trained on large numbers of independent measurements. Recent advances in instrumentation and spectral analysis have substantially improved the clinical feasibility of RS, so that it is now being investigated with increased success in a wide range of cancer types and locations, as well as for non-oncological conditions. This review covers recent advances and continuing challenges, with emphasis on clinical translation.

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