WEDNESDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers in France have developed a computer program they say could make surgery safer by providing doctors with a three-dimensional road map of a patient's interior.
The program, which turns medical images from CT scans into 3-D pictures, was tested on a 66-year-old woman before surgery to remove a tumor from her parathyroid gland.
"We believe the image guidance may represent the next revolution in surgery," said study co-author Dr. Michele Diana, a surgical research fellow at the Research Institute against Digestive Cancer in Strasbourg.
The group created a virtual image of the patient's neck based on prior CT scans. While the CT scans allowed her doctors to find the tumor in her neck, this 3-D virtual model gave them an idea where her nerves and blood vessels were, Diana explained.
The virtual picture alerted doctors that one of the nerves in her neck, called the laryngeal nerve, followed an unusual pathway.
"In the absence of 3-D modeling, we would have missed the variation," said Diana. Instead, her surgeons were able to make an incision that avoided damage to her laryngeal nerve.
Laryngeal nerves have a divergent path, called nonrecurrent, in less than 1 percent of patients. Injury to this nerve can lead to voice hoarseness and voice loss.
"We contribute more than 100 cases of parathyroidectomies per year so if anatomical variation is in 1 percent of patients, that is one case per year. We cannot tolerate this kind of complication," Diana said.
The case report was described in a letter published Sept. 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The software that Diana and his colleagues developed helps surgeons plan their procedure, Diana said. In addition, doctors can overlay the virtual image on top of the actual images captured during surgery to give them an idea of the tissues, ner
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