LONDON (AP) — Surgeons may have a new way to smoke out cancer.
An experimental surgical knife can help surgeons make sure they've removed all the cancerous tissue, doctors reported Wednesday.
Surgeons typically use knives that heat tissue as they cut, producing a sharp-smelling smoke. The new knife analyzes the smoke and can instantly signal whether the tissue is cancerous or healthy.
Surgeons now have to send the tissue to a lab and wait for the results.
Dr. Zoltan Takats of Imperial College London suspected that the smoke produced during cancer surgery might contain some important cancer clues. So he designed a “smart” knife hooked to a refrigerator-size mass spectrometry device on wheels that analyzes the smoke from cauterizing tissue.
The smoke picked up by the smart knife is compared with a library of smoke “signatures” from cancerous and noncancerous tissues.
Information appears on a monitor: Green means the tissue is healthy, red means cancerous and yellow means unidentifiable.
To make sure they've removed a tumor, surgeons now send samples to a laboratory while the patient remains on the operating table. It can take about 30 minutes to get an answer in the best hospitals, but even then doctors cannot be entirely sure, so they often remove a bit more tissue than they think is strictly necessary.
If some cancerous cells remain, patients may need to have another surgery or undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
The new knife and its accompanying machines were made for about $380,000, but scientists said the price tag would likely drop if the technology is commercialized.
That was then used to analyze tumors from 91 patients; the smart knife correctly spotted cancer in every case. A report was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“Brain cancers are notorious for infiltrating into healthy brain tissue beyond what's visible to the surgeon,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “If this can definitively tell doctors whether they've removed all the cancerous tissue, it would be very valuable,” he said.
Still, Lichtenfeld said more trials were needed to prove the new knife would actually make a significant difference to patients. Early enthusiasm for new technologies hasn't always panned out, he said.
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