Strength in Numbers dedicated to my late mother Kay

World first as surgeons spot a brain tumour – with a ‘bleeping pen’: Laser helps surgeons tell the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue

Surgeons often describe the tricky operation to remove a brain tumour as ‘trying to pluck a spider out of jelly’. Take out too little and the cancerous ‘legs’ remain and regrow – but take out too much and there is a risk of cutting away healthy tissue and leaving the patient disabled.

Now a British hospital is trialling a laser that bleeps like a parking sensor on a car when the scalpel gets to the edge of the cancerous areas, letting surgeons know their margins for error. In a world first, neurosurgeons at London’s Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have started using the pen-like probe, called the Core, which shines a near-infrared light on to a tumour and scans for subtle differences between healthy and cancerous tissue.  The device can read the differences in less than a second, and gives a warning sound if the surgeon is close to healthy tissue. About 16,000 Britons are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year, and more children and adults under 40 die from the condition than from any other cancer. There are more than 120 types.

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Amazing gamma knife machine removes brain tumours without general anaesthetic

THE final minutes before entering an operating room for surgery lasting 13 hours to remove a large tumour from her brain still haunt Ellen Beardmore: “Waiting to be wheeled down for open brain surgery is absolutely terrifying,” she says. “All you think is: ‘I am going to die,  I am going to die’.” Seven months later Ellen had gamma knife surgery, a revolutionary new treatment, to stop the remaining parts of the tumour from spreading inside her brain, and the experience was incomparable. “When I went into the gamma knife machine I was a bit unsure of what was going to happen but I was awake the whole time and could not feel anything. “If I had the choice I would not go through open surgery again.” She spent eight days in hospital and five weeks off work after the open brain surgery but needed just a day off after the gamma knife procedure. The 27-year-old, from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, who has made a full recovery, was fortunate to live near one of only seven gamma knife machines in England, yet only four of these are being used by the NHS, due to lack of funds. Two treat only private and foreign patients, while one at the Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield has been mothballed. It is no wonder Ellen is one of many who are calling for NHS England to make this advanced radiotherapy available to every cancer patient who could benefit.

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