A key aspect for the postoperative prognosis of patients with head and neck cancer is complete tumor resection. In current practice, the intraoperative assessment of the tumor-free margin is dependent on visual appearance and palpation of the tumor. Optical imaging has the potential of traversing the gap between radiology and surgery by providing real-time visualization of the tumor, thereby allowing for image-guided surgery. The use of the near-infrared light spectrum offers 2 essential advantages: increased tissue penetration of light and an increased signal-to-background ratio of contrast agents.
In this review, the current practice and limitations of image-guided surgery by optical imaging using intrinsic fluorescence or contrast agents are described. Furthermore, we provide an overview of the various molecular contrast agents targeting specific hallmarks of cancer that have been used in other fields of oncologic surgery, and we describe perspectives on its future use in head and neck cancer surgery. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Head Neck, 2012