Mapping the Brain for Cancer Surgery

Brain tumor surgery accuracy improved with diffusion tensor imaging

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Surgery to remove brain tumors is a delicate business. In addition to removing the cancer, surgeons must be careful not to damage healthy tissue linked to function. A brain mapping technology may help ease this difficulty.

A technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) visualizes important connections within the brain to help surgeons remove diseased tissue while preserving tissue that controls function. It’s sort of like personalized brain mapping.

The use of DTI has been found to extend the lives of people with brain tumors called glioblastomas.

"Learn about the risks of brain tumor removal surgery."

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reviewed previous research to examine the impact of DTI on survival. Steven Brem, MD, professor of Neurosurgery, chief of the Division of Neurosurgical Oncology and co-director of the Penn Brain Tumor Center, served as a senior author of the report.

“Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique routinely used to map 'white matter tracts' – bundles of nerve fibers that connect important brain regions,” Keith Black, MD, chair and professor of Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Neurosurgery, director of the Cochran Brain Tumor Center, director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute and the Ruth and Lawrence Harvey Chair in Neuroscience, told dailyRx News. 

“The ability to image these connections preoperatively allows neurosurgeons to steer clear of them during surgery, with the goal of reducing risk of neurological deficits and achieving better postoperative outcomes,” he said.

Previous studies that the authors reviewed showed the technology helped patients live longer. One study involving 81 patients with high-grade gliomas found that those who were treated using DTI had a median survival of 21.1 months compared to 14 months for patients who were not treated using the technology.

“With future research and development, this imaging modality may be further understood and optimized, and advanced imaging techniques and a better understanding of neural connections will continue to advance the neurosurgeon’s ability to optimize patient outcomes,” the authors wrote.

This report was published in the April issue of Neurosurgical Focus. No outside funding was involved and no author declared any conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
April 3, 2013
Last Updated:
April 5, 2013