Surgeons Now Have the Ability to See Cancer

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cancer cell 2Thanks to advances in technology, new high-tech glasses to be worn by surgeons allow them to see cancer cells. The glasses, developed by a team led by Samuel Achilefu, PhD, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University, were used for the first time this week at Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. Surgeons were able to detect cancer cells as they glowed blue when the technology was used. The glasses were developed at Washington University School of St. Louis and have yet to be named.

The introduction of these glasses is important and exciting news for surgeons and patients alike. Doctors have long dealt with the difficulty of spotting cancer cells, even when high-powered magnification is used. This increases the potential for tumor cells to be left behind. Now, they will be able to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells, so that this will virtually eliminate the problem and reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

Potential Benefits to Patients:

  • No follow-up surgery
  • Less pain
  • Lower anxiety
  • Lower cost of lost time

According to current standards of care, surgeons are required to remove existing tumors and some of the neighboring tissue, due to the potential for additional cancer cells, even if there are none present. Tissue samples are then sent to a pathology lab for viewing. In those cases where additional cells are located, the recommendation is often for additional surgery to remove more of the surrounding tissue.

According to a Science Daily news article, the glasses could reduce the need for additional surgical procedures, along with the stress, expense and time that these additional steps take. This would affect 20% to 25% of breast cancer patients who have lumpectomies, since today’s technology doesn’t adequately show the extent of the disease during the first surgery.

Although the glasses are still in their early stages of development, the team is optimistic that the technology will reduce or, ideally, eliminate the need for follow-up surgeries. The glasses work in combination with a targeted molecular agent that attaches to cancer cells, making them glow when used with the glasses. An added benefit is that it will allow surgeons to visualize any type of cancer. Related studies posted in the scientific journal Biomedical Optics reported the use of the glasses in viewing tumors as small as 1mm.

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