Modalities for image‐ and molecular‐guided cancer surgery. BJS 2018; 105: e69-e83.

Published: 17th January 2018

Authors: M. A. Stammes, S. L. Bugby, T. Porta, K. Pierzchalski, T. Devling, C. Otto et al.


Surgery is the cornerstone of treatment for many solid tumours. A wide variety of imaging modalities are available before surgery for staging, although surgeons still rely primarily on visual and haptic cues in the operating environment. Image and molecular guidance might improve the adequacy of resection through enhanced tumour definition and detection of aberrant deposits. Intraoperative modalities available for image‐ and molecular‐guided cancer surgery are reviewed here.


Intraoperative cancer detection techniques were identified through a systematic literature search, with selection of peer‐reviewed publications from January 2012 to January 2017. Modalities were reviewed, described and compared according to 25 predefined characteristics. To summarize the data in a comparable way, a three‐point rating scale was applied to quantitative characteristics.


The search identified ten image‐ and molecular‐guided surgery techniques, which can be divided into four groups: conventional, optical, nuclear and endogenous reflectance modalities. Conventional techniques are the most well known imaging modalities, but unfortunately have the drawback of a defined resolution and long acquisition time. Optical imaging is a real‐time modality; however, the penetration depth is limited. Nuclear modalities have excellent penetration depth, but their intraoperative use is limited by the use of radioactivity. Endogenous reflectance modalities provide high resolution, although with a narrow field of view.


Each modality has its strengths and weaknesses; no single technique will be suitable for all surgical procedures. Strict selection of modalities per cancer type and surgical requirements is required as well as combining techniques to find the optimal balance.

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