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Fluorescent Tracer 'Lights Up' Brain Tumor for Surgery
Date:2/19/2013

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Neurosurgeons report that they harnessed the power of fluorescent light to illuminate a brain tumor so the entire growth could be removed.

A report describes a case in which a patient with glioblastoma swallowed a pill, called 5-ALA, and was taken to surgery about four hours later. The medication attached itself to tumor cells, causing them to glow brightly. Once the skull was opened, the doctors focused a blue light on the tumor, which gave the cancerous cells a pink glow, so the surgeons could differentiate malignant tissue from healthy tissue.

"This is a very, very good thing," said study author Mitchel Berger, chairman of neurosurgery at the University of California, San Francisco. "In this case, we just happened to notice we could see evidence of the tumor spreading along the way of the ventricles [a communicating network of brain cavities], which showed we could see tumor dissemination."

The authors noted that the best way to extend survival is to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible. The research is published in the Feb. 19 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

It's not always easy to see precisely where a tumor has spread in the brain. Some types of tumors can be particularly difficult to identify and remove, even with the benefit of MRI and surgical microscopes.

The use of fluorescence appears to be more effective than MRI technology, at least in this case, because the glow allows surgeons to see microscopic remnants of the tumor and areas of the cancer that might be mistaken for edema, or swelling, Berger explained. "This is an inexpensive way to identify high-grade tumors," he said.

Glioblastomas are a fast-growing type of tumor that usually occurs in adults and affects the brain more often than the spinal cord, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Why do tumor cells r
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