Every year over 250,000 people around the world are diagnosed with brain cancer, and 71% of deaths from brain tumours occur in people under 75 years old. In fact, brain tumours claim more lives of people under 40 than any other cancer, including in children. In addition, brain tumours are extremely difficult to diagnose, and their incidence is rising, with as many as 40% of cancers eventually spread to the brain.[i]
Brain tumour surgery is a highly complex, delicate and risky procedure. Yet a new procedure carried out by a team of surgeons in London may prove to be a game-changer for both patients and doctors alike.
Using both a laser probe and a so-called “smart knife”, surgeons successfully removed a brain tumour from twenty-two year old Ruben Hill, the first patient on which the new procedure was used. The trial operation’s success was recently published in Medical News Today[ii], which notes that the new procedure was able to get around two major challenges facing surgeons performing brain tumour surgery.
A laser that can see and a knife that can think
One major problem that surgeons encounter while performing brain tumour surgery is the difficulty in distinguishing tumour and healthy brain tissue. Current procedures can only do this by taking biopsies of removed tissue, a process which can take as much as half an hour to confirm results. Moreover, ensuring that wide enough margins remain around the removal site, without cutting into healthy tissue, is another reason why operations are incredibly delicate and risky. Cutting into healthy brain tissue surrounding a tumour can cause serious side effects from damage to neighbouring brain tissue,for example loss of speech or loss of movement.
The new procedure succeeds in “effectively bringing the lab into the operating theater”, with the laser probe mapping the distinction between cancer and normal tissue and guiding the surgeon’s decision-making during surgery. At the same time, the knife is almost simultaneously able to confirm the tissue type by analysing the vapour produced by the surgery itself. The knife has obtained a 100% accuracy rate in previous trial studies.
According to Professor Michael Swash, Consultant Neurologist at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital and member of the Best Doctors European Medical Advisory Board, “this new procedure marks a further advance in the all-important technique of accurately defining the limits of surgical excision during tumour surgery in the brain.”