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The Pink Drink: 5-ALA

The Pink Drink (5-ALA) is a valuable surgical aid which helps neurosurgeons see and successfully remove more of a tumour during surgery.

What does the Pink Drink do?

The Pink Drink is taken as a drink prior to surgery, and causes tumour cells to glow bright pink under UV light. This allows the surgeon to tell tumour cells apart from healthy cells, and so helps them remove more of the tumour while causing less damage to healthy tissue.

In fact, the whole tumour is successfully removed in 70.5% of cases when the Pink Drink is used, which is up from around 30% without this valuable surgical aid.

By accurately removing even more of the brain tumour, less aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy is needed. As a result, there is less damage to healthy brain tissue from these treatments, and the overall effect is a longer survival time and more days feeling well.

Who can the Pink Drink Help?

The Pink Drink has proven to be beneficial for adults with high-grade gliomas (the most common types of brain tumour).

High grade gliomas are diffuse – that means they have threadlike tendrils extending into surrounding areas of the brain. For this reason, it is not possible to remove all of the tumour, though your surgeon will try to remove as much as it is possible to do safely.

Under normal light, it can be difficult to identify the edges of the main part of the tumour. This meant your surgeon would have to leave more of the tumour to make sure they did not remove healthy tissue with the consequent effects on your brain function.

By taking the Pink Drink before your operation and turning on a UV light during your operation, the edges of your tumour are more clearly visible, meaning more of the tumour can be safely removed, with the consequent benefits.

However, you should always speak to your doctor about access as they will be best placed to know if this drink will be appropriate for you. The Pink Drink is not available to children.

Availability of 5-ALA

Although the EU has approved 5-ALA's use in high grade gliomas, it is currently only available in around half of neurosurgery units in the UK.

However in May 2018, the government committed to a national rollout of 5-ALA.

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