New technique could spot ‘invisible’ ovarian tumours during surgery

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new imaging technique could help spot ovarian tumours during surgery that are not visible to the naked eye, according to researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

“This new imaging technology holds promise for improving the amount of a tumour that a surgeon can see, potentially making surgery more precise" - Dr David Phelps, Cancer Research UK

The technique, which uses a fluorescent dye, could help surgeons spot and remove additional invisible tumours, or those that can’t be felt when examining the tissue, according to the study, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

According to Dr David Phelps, a Cancer Research UK expert in ovarian cancer surgery, being sure all traces of a tumour, or the earliest spreading cells, have been removed is important for improved survival. 

“Research has shown that completely removing all traces of ovarian cancer during surgery leads to much better survival from the disease. But during surgery it can be difficult to spot all the different places where tumour may have spread to,” he said.

To try to solve this challenge the Netherlands team, led by Dr Alexander L. Vahrmeijer, developed a dye that attaches to a molecule called folate receptor-alpha (FRA), found on the surface of 90% of ovarian tumours. 

Their new study was the first time the dye had been tested in women with ovarian cancer, following initial safety and specificity tests in 30 healthy volunteers. They showed it was able to light up tumours and the earliest groups of spreading cells. 

And in 12 ovarian cancer patients, surgeons using the fluorescent technique were able to remove an additional 29% of tumours.

“This new imaging technology holds promise for improving the amount of a tumour that a surgeon can see, potentially making surgery more precise,” said Cancer Research UK’s Dr Phelps. 

“The next step will be to test this exciting approach in larger trials to see if this can help more women survive ovarian cancer.”

Dr Vahrmeijer agreed it was still early days, and larger studies will be carried out to help test whether the new technique can improve survival.

“It is reasonably plausible to assume that if more cancer is removed the survival will be better,” he said. 

“However, long-term follow-up studies need to be performed in large patient groups to prove such effects.”

References

  • Hoogstins, C., et al. (2016). A Novel Tumor-Specific Agent for Intraoperative Near-Infrared Fluorescence Imaging: A Translational Study in Healthy Volunteers and Patients with Ovarian Cancer Clinical Cancer Research, 22 (12), 2929-2938 DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-15-2640