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News / June 2, 2011

Blue-light oral cancer tool could save lives

by Guy Hiscott

A device that emits a blue light is giving patients with oral cancer a chance of survival.

Doctors and scientists in Canada began testing the tool last September as part of a five-year study on 400 patients who are suffering from cancer that has afflicted their tongue or other parts of the mouth.

The medics are using this new approach to remove tumours and pre-cancerous cells from the mouths of those diagnosed with early-stage oral cancer.

The hand-held fluorescence visualisation tool allows surgeons to see cancer cells that cannot be detected by conventional white light so they can remove the affected tissue and prevent the disease recurring.

Miriam Rosin, the principle investigator of the study, said the blue-light tool – developed at the BC Cancer Agency – had been used to detect lung, cervical and skin cancers but is being used surgically for the first time for oral cancer.

She said surgeons use the device to see cancer cells they’d otherwise miss and leaving normal tissue behind.

She explains: ‘When surgeons treat the disease, they catch everything that’s immediately apparent but it’s well known that a lot of the disease is scattered across the mouth. We showed that we could significantly stop recurrence rates.’

This initial study was two years ago on 20 patients with early-stage oral cancer. Miriam says the results were so promising that, for the first time, teams of experts, including surgeons, pathologists, research staff and scientists, were brought together in nine cities across Canada to conduct the current study, funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute.

She explains: ‘It’s groundbreaking because, if it works the way we hope it works, it’s going to have a big impact in the way we treat the disease and the assurance is from surgeons and from the professional societies that this will change clinical practice.’

The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) recently announced the launch of the $4.7 million Pan-Canadian Phase III clinical trial aimed at improving outcomes for patients undergoing surgery for oral squamous cell cancers.

The Canadian Optically Guided Approach for Oral Lesions Surgical Trial (The COOLS Study) has the potential to revolutionise clinical practice around the globe.