How Coloring Brain Tumors Pink Can Help Cancer Patients Live Longer
June 10, 2019
When a surgeon removes a brain tumor, precision is everything: The goal is to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible, while preserving the surrounding brain tissue.
A drug called 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) can improve the ability of surgeons to do that. The drug makes brain tumor cells turn a bright pink when the surgeon exposes it under fluorescent light during surgery. This helps surgeons to see the edges of the tumor more clearly, allowing them to remove the cancerous tissue more completely and precisely.
The Importance of Precision
Several published studies have shown that removing more tumor results in improved survival. However, removing the entire tumor can be difficult, even for the most experienced surgeons. It's difficult to determine where tumor ends and inflamed brain tissue begins.
Using 5-ALA to turn the cancerous tissue bright pink can change all that. Patients take the drug by mouth before surgery. Then, during the surgery, a specially adapted surgical microscope that can illuminate the tumor with either white or blue light.
Improved Survival Rates
The outlook is often bleak for people with malignant gliomas, the most common – and most aggressive – type of primary brain cancer tumor: a median survival time of only about 14.5 months.
Nearly 13,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with malignant gliomas and most patients live less than two years, so improved treatment options are critical. Using 5-ALA allows the surgeon to visualize the tumor more precisely, which allows more extensive resection and improved survival.
Standard of Care
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 5-ALA for use in the United States in 2017. The drug has long been a standard of care in Germany and much of Europe.
Read stories about patients who were able to defeat brain cancer through their own determination and strength – and the expertise and compassionate care of the University Hospitals team.
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