A new imaging technology uses the way light from lasers interacts with cancerous and healthy tissues to distinguish between them in real time and with no physical contact — an advancement with the potential to eliminate the need for secondary surgeries to get missed malignant tissue. Intraoperatively, during surgery, the surgeon will be able to see exactly what to cut and how much to cut.
Doctors now rely primarily on preoperation MRI images and CT scans, experience, and visual inspection to determine the margins of tumors during operations. Tissue samples are then sent to labs for testing, with waits of up to two weeks for results to show if the tumor was completely removed. In about 10 percent of cases — the rates for different kinds of cancer involving tumors vary widely — some cancerous tissue has been missed and a second operation is required to remove it.
The photoacoustic technology works by sending laser light pulses into targeted tissue, which absorbs them, heats up, expands, and produces sound waves. A second laser reads those sound waves, which are then processed to determine if the tissue is cancerous or non-cancerous.
The system has already been used to make accurate images of even relatively thick, untreated human tissue samples — a key breakthrough in the development process. Next steps include imaging fresh tissue samples taken during surgeries, integrating the technology into a surgical microscope, and using the system directly on patients during operations.