Cancer Goggles


Most of us don't realize that when a surgeon cuts into a patient to remove a cancerous tumor, it's not easy to distinguish between healthy and cancer cells.

Sure, they're guided by MRIs and CT scans that show them where the cancer tissues are, but those images are static, no matter how clear they are. Once the surgeon makes the incision and goes in, reality hits.

The body is dynamic and tumor growths can have irregular borders. Identifying the exact margins of the cancer tissue when the cells are mere microns in size - that's thousandths of a millimeter - is daunting.

So, the standard of care is to cut a larger swath into healthy tissue to ensure all tumor cells are removed. But something better is being developed - cancer goggles a surgeon would wear to identify tumor cells during surgery.

First, the patient is injected with a dye that binds to cancer cells. The dye specifically binds to a number of different cancer cells, such as prostate, colon, breast, and liver tumor cells. When hit with infrared light, they glow. This allows the surgeon to cut away until all the glowing cells are removed.

In the lab, the dye remains just long enough for an operation to finish and, theoretically, the patient could be injected with the dye just before the procedure.

The cancer goggles are being tried out in a veterinary clinic first and, if they work, cancer patients could avoid having healthy tissues removed. More importantly, they could avoid repeat surgeries to remove tumors regrown from missed cancer cells.

More Information

Special glasses help surgeons 'see' cancer
Article about the high-tech glasses developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri

University of Missouri joins Washington University in developing cancer goggles
"A breakthrough in cancer research is happening in Mid-Missouri, literally changing the way doctors see cancer."

What Is Cancer?
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains cancer in easy-to-understand language.

Understanding Cancer Series
The National Cancer Institute at the NIH also offers this resource, which has tutorials on various cancer topics available as PDFs and PowerPoint presentations.