Gross-total resection (GTR) is the treatment of choice in the majority of patients suffering from spinal ependymal tumors. In such tumors, the extent of resection (EOR) is considered the key factor for tumor recurrence and thus patient prognosis. However, incomplete resection is not uncommon and leads to increased risk of tumor recurrence. One important cause of incomplete resection is insufficient intraoperative visualization of tumor tissue as well as residual tumor tissue. Therefore, the authors investigated the value of 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA)–induced fluorescence in a series of spinal ependymal tumors for improved tumor visualization.
Adult patients who underwent preoperative 5-ALA administration and surgery for a spinal ependymal tumor were included in this study. For each tumor, a conventional white-light microsurgical resection was performed. Additionally, the fluorescence status (strong, vague, or no fluorescence) and fluorescence homogeneity (homogenous or inhomogeneous) of the spinal ependymal tumors were evaluated during surgery using a modified neurosurgical microscope. In intramedullary tumor cases with assumed GTR, the resection cavity was investigated for potential residual fluorescing foci under white-light microscopy. In cases with residual fluorescing foci, these areas were safely resected and the corresponding samples were histopathologically screened for the presence of tumor tissue.
In total, 31 spinal ependymal tumors, including 27 intramedullary tumors and 4 intradural extramedullary tumors, were included in this study. Visible fluorescence was observed in the majority of spinal ependymal tumors (n = 25, 81%). Of those, strong fluorescence was noted in 23 of these cases (92%), whereas vague fluorescence was present in 2 cases (8%). In contrast, no fluorescence was observed in the remaining 6 tumors (19%). Most ependymal tumors demonstrated an inhomogeneous fluorescence effect (17 of 25 cases, 68%). After assumed GTR in intramedullary tumors (n = 15), unexpected residual fluorescing foci within the resection cavity could be detected in 5 tumors (33%). These residual fluorescing foci histopathologically corresponded to residual tumor tissue in all cases.
This study indicates that 5-ALA fluorescence makes it possible to visualize the majority of spinal ependymal tumors during surgery. Unexpected residual tumor tissue could be detected with the assistance of 5-ALA fluorescence in approximately one-third of analyzed intramedullary tumors. Thus, 5-ALA fluorescence might be useful to increase the EOR, particularly in intramedullary ependymal tumors, in order to reduce the risk of tumor recurrence.