Boost for bone-tumour surgery

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am

Medical experts at Chinese University have become the world's pioneers in using computer navigation technology for bone tumour surgery.

The technique has been used in the treatment of orthopaedic trauma, spinal surgery and joint replacement surgery in the past but never for removing bone cancer.

Surgeons at the university have successfully treated about 15 bone tumour patients with the new approach since early last year.

Wong Kwok-chuen, honorary clinical assistant professor of the university's orthopaedics and traumatology department, said the technique greatly enhanced surgeons' visibility and accuracy in removing bone cancer and could also be employed in other surgical procedures.

'The technique is particularly useful for knee operations as doctors are able to preserve healthy cartilage joint in paediatric bone cancer patients so that the bad effects on normal bone growth will be minimised,' he said.

'The new method has also been used for complex pelvic surgery and patients with distorted anatomy and severe tissue scarring who have to undergo a number of operations.'

In conventional treatment of bone cancer, Dr Wong said doctors had to rely on their experience to guess which part of the bone should be removed.

'Since doctors could not see clearly, they might remove part of the bone and tumour plus healthy cartilage joint to make sure cancer would not develop again,' he said.

Under the new method, a tracker attached to instruments used for carrying out tumour removal surgeries collects data via an infrared image.

'The data is then translated into images displayed on a computer screen from which doctors can see how they proceed to remove the tumour without causing damage to healthy tissues and bone.

'It is just like the global positioning system or the GPS. A driver wants to go somewhere, but he is not sure which route to take and the distance between his own location to the destination. He can rely on the GPS to find out the correct direction by looking at a small monitor.'

With computer navigation, doctors could identify resection margins precisely and preserve normal bone, said Dr Wong, adding that the data collected by the tracker could also be used for accurate fitting of metal prostheses.

He said the new method was particularly important for any young patients whose bones were still growing.

'Their bones can grow better if their cartilage joint can be preserved. Otherwise, the length of their legs might be different when they are adults, as one of their legs is healthy and the other has undergone bone resection and replacing of the missing part with metallic prostheses.'