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Imaging System Lets Doctors 'See' Cancer During Surgery

Fluorescent dyes light up diseased tissue on video monitors, helping spare healthy cells

TUESDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A new imaging system that highlights cancerous tissue makes it easier for surgeons to detect and remove tumors without harming surrounding healthy tissue, according to U.S. researchers.

The fluorescence-assisted resection and exploration (FLARE) system --which consists of a near-infrared (NIR) imaging system, a video monitor and a computer -- shows particular promise for improving surgery for breast, prostate and lung cancers. In advanced stages, the boundaries of these cancers can be difficult to define. FLARE may also help cancer surgeons avoid cutting important structures such as blood vessels and nerves.

Patients are injected with special dyes (NIR fluorphores) that target specific structures such as cancer cells. When exposed to NIR light, the dyes light up the cancer cells, which appear on a video monitor.

Details about the development and early clinical trials of the new system were to be presented Aug. 19 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, in Philadelphia.

"This technique is really the first time that cancer surgeons can see structures that are otherwise invisible, providing true image-guided surgery. If we're able to see cancer, we have a chance of curing it," project director Dr. John Frangioni, co-director of the Center for Imaging Technology and Molecular Diagnostics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said in an ACS news release.

In preliminary trials, the researchers used FLARE to visualize organs and body fluids of mice and map the lymph nodes of pigs, all in real time. The first human clinical trials, which may begin this summer, will involve mapping the lymph nodes of breast cancer patients.

Currently, cancer surgeons have no clear way to determine in real-time whether they've removed all of a patient's cancerous tissue.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about cancer surgery.

SOURCE: American Chemical Society, news release, Aug. 19, 2008

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