WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -- Kidney cancer is on the rise, but doctors are armed with new technology, and they're up for the challenge.
Firefly is a procedure that uses infrared imaging to illuminate exactly where the kidney and its blood supply is.
Gene Carter recently had an MRI to examine a problem with his liver. However, the scan exposed a spot on his kidney. He hadn't exhibited any other symptoms, but the spot was an indication of kidney cancer.
Carter knew he only had a few options to deal with this news: wait it out, have open surgery, have laparoscopic surgery, or, the most advanced option, have robotic laparoscopic surgery.
He was then directed to Keith Kowalczyk, M.D. of Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. Kowalczyk explained the robotic procedure and the new Firefly technology that would allow greater visibility and accuracy.
Carter wasn't sure that he could recover quickly if he had open surgery, so he opted for the less invasive robotic laparoscopy. The robotic laparoscopy involves inserting a tube in a small incision to remove the tumor with a remote controlled unit.
"I had greater confidence in his ability to be effective in doing it thanks to the Firefly technology," Carter said of Kowalczyk.
Kowalczyk explained that the Firefly technology involves injecting a tracer called indocyanine green into the patient's bloodstream. Then, using infrared imaging, doctors light up the region and the arteries turn green.
"It's almost like a black light turns on. In a dark field, all of a sudden, arteries turn green," Kowalczyk said.
In older procedures, blood loss and disruption of the blood supply to the kidney were big concerns. Now, with the arteries glowing green, doctors can see and accurately control blood flow to keep the body functioning as normally as possible.
"The tumor itself does not light up like the rest of the kidney. So we can see where the tumor is, and therefore, cut out just the tumor and spare the normal kidney," Kowalczyk said. "It makes the procedure easier...more precise."
Firefly was approved by the FDA last year. Medstar Georgetown Hospital has been using it since April of 2012. They are one of the first in the D.C. area to do so.
It has been four months since Carter's surgery, and he is impressed with the results. His kidneys are tumor free.
Kowalczyk says the technology has the potential to be used as a tracer for other cancers as well, and he sees it as a game changer in the medical world.