A New Way to Search for Cancer
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
MARCH 22, 2018
This is hopefully a preview of a technique that will become increasingly important. I say hopefully because we all know how frequently there is an exciting press release that eventually turns out to be a not-so-helpful drug or strategy. Surgery is the bedrock of most cancer treatment. The more cancer that can be removed from the body, the better the chances of cure (in italics because we know that word is almost never used). Surgery is not relevant for blood cancers, but for solid tumors, it is usually the first step and sometimes the only one.
From STAT comes this report of a new surgical technique that helps surgeons, intra-operatively, find cancer cells. Cells are far too small to be seen, and surgeons can't just willy-nilly take out tissue to be examined by pathologists. Plus, even if they could do so, those pathology reports come later, once the patient is several days into recovery. Yes, there are frozen sections that can be done during the operation, but those have their limits and won't ever be the primary pathology report.
Dr. Singhal at UPenn has found that injecting large doses of a florescent dye, ICG, the day before surgery may give surgeons new ways to see. The dye collects in cancer cells, and they then light up when exposed to infrared light during surgery. He has been using this technique in surgeries for lung, brain, and other cancers. There are similar efforts going on elsewhere. If these techniques continue to prove their value, it will greatly enhance the chances of getting more (dare we say all) of the cancer out of the body.
Here is the start of the article and a link to read more:
Doctors Hunt for Hidden Cancers with Glowing Dyes
It was an ordinary surgery to remove a tumor — until doctors turned off the lights and the patient’s chest started to glow. A spot over his heart shined purplish pink. Another shimmered in a lung.
They were hidden cancers revealed by fluorescent dye, an advance that soon may transform how hundreds of thousands of operations are done each year.
Surgery has long been the best way to cure cancer. If the disease recurs, it’s usually because stray tumor cells were left behind or others lurked undetected. Yet there’s no good way for surgeons to tell what is cancer and what is not. They look and feel for defects, but good and bad tissue often seem the same.
Now, dyes are being tested to make cancer cells light up so doctors can cut them out and give patients a better shot at survival.