Fluorescent-guided surgery shows promise in treating brain cancer


by KING 5 HealthLink


Posted on October 17, 2010 at 5:41 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

Joe Jonasen has spent most of his life behind the wheel. It's been a great way to make a living.

But earlier this year, doctors diagnosed him with glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer that's difficult to treat.

"If they're going to operate, then maybe I have a chance. To take care of my family, and work, and that's what I did," he said.

Doctors needed to remove 95 percent of the cancerous cells, which were very close to the area of the brain linked to speech.

"We have to maximize the resection, yet also make sure we have a functional outcome for the patient," said Dr. Khaled Aziz, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Doctors are testing a technique that makes it easier to visualize cancer cells. Before surgery, patients swallow a pill, called five ALA, that reacts with the chemicals in the body. Under ultraviolet light, healthy cells turn blue. Cancer cells light up hot pink.

"That's an advantage of the 5-ALA, that it allows us to track it, because as I told you, sometimes you can't differentiate between tumor cells and brain cells under the microscope," said Dr. Aziz.

Joe recovered with his vision, speech and motor skills intact. At 66, he can retire but won't hear of it.

"I'm not made that way. I've got to work, until, you know, a lot of people do…God bless them, but I don't want to do that," he said.

A U.S. study found six months after surgery, 40-percent of those receiving ALA prior to surgery had no progression in their tumor as opposed to 21 percent of the patients who did not have fluorescent-guided surgery.

The oral dose of ALA is already approved for use in Germany.