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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 brain tumour during surgery. This is particularly useful for treating gliomas.

What does the Pink Drink do?

The Pink Drink is a drug called 5-ALA (5-Aminolevulinic Acid), which 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 brain 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.

A brain tumour glowing pink under UV light, due to the effects of 5-ALA, or the "Pink Drink"

Although it is not actually pink, the name of the ‘Pink Drink’ comes from the fascinating way it makes the tumour glow bright pink under UV light.

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 means your surgeon would have to leave more of the tumour to make sure they do 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.

Helping you prepare for surgery

Availability of 5-ALA

In May 2018, the government committed to a national rollout of 5-ALA. All centres should now offer 5-ALA to adults with high grade gliomas where it is suitable.

If you are interested in whether this would be appropriate for you, please speak to your medical team.

Neurosurgery (adults) – (pdf) –

Find out more about Neurosurgery for adults in the full fact sheet – including longer-term effects and information about when you can return to activities, such as sport or flying.

Neurosurgery (adults) – Clear print (pdf) –

Find out more about Neurosurgery for adults in the full fact sheet – including longer-term effects and information about when you can return to activities, such as sport or flying. Clear print version, designed to RNIB standards.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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