5-Aminolevulinic Acid Fluorescence-Guided Surgery in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Peter Filip, David K. Lerner, Evan Kominsky, Alexander Schupper, Katherine Liu, Nazir Mohemmed Khan, Scott Roof, Constantinos Hadjipanayis, Eric Genden, Alfred M.C. Iloreta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To determine the utility of 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) fluorescence for resection of head and neck carcinoma. Methods: In this prospective pilot trial, 5-ALA was administered as an oral suspension 3–5 h prior to induction of anesthesia for resection of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Following resection, 405 nm blue light was applied, and fluorescence of the tumor as well as the surgical bed was recorded. Specimen fluorescence intensity was graded categorically as none (score = 0), mild (1), moderate (2), or robust (3) by the operating surgeon intraoperatively and corroborated with final pathologic diagnosis. Results: Seven patients underwent resection with 5-ALA. Five (83%) were male with an age range of 33–82 years (mean = 60). Sites included nasal cavity (n = 3), oral cavity (n = 3), and the larynx (n = 1). All specimens demonstrated robust fluorescence when 5-ALA was administered 3–5 h preoperatively. 5-ALA fluorescence predicted the presence of perineural invasion, a positive margin, and metastatic lymphadenopathy. Two patients had acute photosensitivity reactions, and one patient had a temporary elevation of hepatic enzymes. Conclusions: 5-ALA induces robust intraoperative fluorescence of HNSCC, capable of demonstrating a positive margin, perineural invasion, and metastatic nodal disease. Although no conclusions are there about the safety of this drug in the head and neck cancer population, our study parallels the extensive safety data in the neurosurgical literature. Future applications may include intraoperative assessment of margin status, diagnostic accuracy, and impacts on survival. Level of Evidence: 4 Laryngoscope, 2023.

Original languageEnglish
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • 5-aminolevulinic acid
  • fluorescence-guided surgery
  • larynx
  • nasal cavity
  • oral cavity
  • paranasal sinuses


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