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Sharp Health News

Beating brain cancer with new technology

Sept. 26, 2016

Fluorescence-guided tumor resection

Dr. Vikram Udani and his team at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. New technology helps doctors spare healthy tissue when removing cancerous brain tumors.

A brain tumor diagnosis is devastating at any age. But when 25-year-old Chase Leoncini was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he was in disbelief.

An avid rock climber and scuba diver, Leoncini is strong, athletic and the last person you'd suspect of having a brain tumor. But after inexplicably blacking out in his apartment, he woke up to find himself at Sharp Grossmont Hospital facing emergency surgery.

He thinks back and remembers, "They said, 'Well, you had a seizure and you have a brain tumor.' I said, 'Well, can you take it out?'"

Leoncini was informed that he was having brain surgery in five days. "I was shocked," he says. "I had no symptoms. I had no idea I had a tumor nearly the size of a baseball."

Beating brain cancer with new technology

Chase Leoncini with his fiancee Nicole Marcos. Leoncini didn't realize he had a brain tumor until he woke up in the hospital, facing emergency surgery.

Fortunately, a promising breakthrough technology called microscopic fluorescence-guided tumor resection helped save Leoncini's life. Sharp Grossmont and Sharp Memorial are among the first hospitals in San Diego to use the procedure, which causes tumors to glow so healthy brain tissue can be spared.

Dr. Vikram Udani, medical director of neurosurgery for the Laurel Amtower Cancer Institute and Neuro-Oncology Center, explains the procedure: "We inject a fluorescent dye into the patient's bloodstream about an hour before surgery. The dye travels to the brain where the blood vessels are leaky - usually blood vessels are leakiest in the tumor. So essentially, the dye permeates into the leaky blood vessels and tumor tissue, causing it to light up."

"I then flip a switch on the microscope, which gives me a special filter, and I can see those areas of the brain glowing. That allows me to pinpoint the tumor with greater accuracy and to save healthy brain tissue," he says.

According to Dr. Udani, when it comes to complexities of the brain, accuracy is critical. Surgery can be a delicate balancing act. If too little of a malignant brain tumor is removed, the cancer can grow back; if too much is removed, healthy tissue is at risk. Any damage to healthy tissue can lead to changes in brain function such as the patient's ability to speak, move, hear, see or think.

Leoncini, however, prevailed. He was diagnosed in March 2016, and is now cancer-free. For now, he reports for an MRI every six months to make sure he stays that way.

Dr. Udani says, "Brain tumors don't have to be fatal. Technology is giving hope to people like Chase and others."

"I feel good. My doctors have approved me to rock climb and I'm getting back to doing the things I like to do," Leoncini says.

Leoncini also got engaged and looks forward to a healthy future.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Udani for an upcoming story about using fluorescent dye to better identify tumors during brain surgery, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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