Published on September 16, 2019

Seeing bladder cancer in a new light

Blue light cystocsopyIn the hands of skilled physicians, the latest and greatest medical technology can often improve and even save lives. Case in point: state-of the-art blue light cystoscopy. It’s new to St. Mary Medical Center, one of the few hospitals in the region to offer it. And it’s helping doctors find and treat potentially aggressive bladder cancer.

Seeing better in blue

A major challenge of bladder cancer is that it has a high rate of recurrence. After treatment, it often comes back. One reason is that it is sometimes difficult for surgeons to see tiny tumors in the bladder during the initial surgery to treat the disease. But that is changing with blue light cystoscopy. Here’s how it works:

During surgery, doctors first use a catheter to place a special medicine into the bladder through the urethra. Then they use a lighted scope to shine a blue wavelength of light on the bladder. (Traditional cystoscopy, used to screen for bladder cancer, uses a white light.) The medication causes the bladder cancer tissue to glow bright pink or red under the blue light.

“It lights up bladder cancer like a light bulb, which allows you to see even the smallest tumors that you cannot see with standard white light cystoscopy,” says Jamison S. Jaffe, DO, Chief of Urology at St. Mary.

Blue is better for patients

Using the blue light during bladder cancer surgery helps ensure that even the tiniest traces of cancer are removed. This by itself may make it less likely that the cancer will come back.

“We are offering patients a much more accurate and precise treatment—a much more thorough procedure,” Dr. Jaffe says.

But that’s not all. After treatment ends, urologists at St. Mary Comprehensive Urologic Specialists now use blue light cystoscopy in their office to monitor their patients and make sure the disease hasn’t returned. If a patient’s cancer does return, the blue light may allow their doctor to spot it early, before it might invade nearby muscle tissue. Muscle-invasive bladder cancer can be much more difficult to treat.


“It lights up bladder cancer like a light bulb, which allows you to see even the smallest tumors that you cannot see with standard white light cystoscopy.”
–  Jamison S. Jaffe, DO, Chief of Urology at St. Mary

“Research has shown that this decreases the chance of having a recurrence of bladder cancer,” explains Dr. Jaffe.

St. Mary Medical Center is one of only a handful of hospitals in the Philadelphia area that uses blue light cystoscopy in the operating room. And no other clinics in the Tri-State region use the blue light scope as an office procedure to monitor for bladder cancer recurrence, Dr. Jaffe says.

The Community League of St. Mary generously funded the purchase of the blue light technology—part of their profound commitment to ensure St. Mary continues to make state-of-the-art care available to the community.

“We felt compelled that we owed our patients this technology,” Dr. Jaffe says.