There's too much guesswork in cancer surgery. Although a tumor is usually a different color or density than the healthy tissue around it, stray cancer cells near the tumor often blend in, so surgeons carve out an extra fraction of an inch surrounding it. But if post-op tests prove that the extracted tissue has cancer cells on its edge, another round of surgery is required. This happens frequently: About 20 percent of breast-cancer patients need a second surgery because of lingering cancer cells.
With their new imaging system, scientists at GE might have found a fix. Before surgery, doctors using GE's system would inject into the patient's vein a fluorescent dye solution that seeks out dangerous cells surrounding the tumor. Surgeons would illuminate the tagged cells with infrared light, creating a glowing halo. A real-time image of the tagged cells is then overlaid on a video of the patient's anatomy. Kathleen Bove of GE's biomedical imaging lab says that in tests on rats, the imaging system helped scientists remove peripheral cancer cells, lessening the need for follow-up surgeries.