For many years, the only treatment for cancer was exposing the whole body to chemotherapy or radiation. Now a new generation of cancer options are available to patients. Specialists at the Ireland Cancer Center at University Hospitals say they have two brand new treatments they're testing this summer that target tumors with extreme accuracy while sparing surrounding tissue. ideastream Health Reporter, Lisa Ann Pinkerton has more.
This past December, 73-year-old Francis Pasalasqua's doctor told her that her colon cancer was back, and it was worse. She had tumors in her colon and several in her liver. Her doctor at Hillside Hospital in Twinsburg recommended chemotherapy, but she refused.
Francis Pasalasqua: Loosing hair doesn't bother me. Hair grows back. But not feeling well for so many days out of a month, I just can't handle it.
So Pasalasqua resigned herself to dying naturally of her disease. Until one night, when she was in the shower, she had an epiphany. Pasalasqua recalled that 20 years ago, she had referred a friend with lymphoma to University Hospitals.
Francis Pasalasqua: When I referred her there she added on another 10 years to her life, and I thought, "What? Why? Well, my goodness, Francis you referred this woman and you're..." and I was on the phone the very next morning with Ireland Cancer Center and I was taken right away.
Pasalasqua had so many tumors in her liver, two about the size of a baseball, that doctors at University Hospitals feared that removing them surgically might remove too much of her liver. So instead, they said they might be able to shrink them with a new type of treatment. Dr. Joseph LiPuma, a UH Interventional Radiologist, says last April, Pasalasqua became the first patient in Northeast Ohio to have her tumor injected with millions of tiny glass beads - about a third of the size of a stand of hair. They're designed to cut off the blood flow to tumors and expose then to extremely high doses of radiation, without impacting all the cells in a patient's body.
Joseph LiPuma: The radiation that comes out of these beads can only travel one centimeter from the center of the source. So that as the material is put inside the tumor that's what's effected. Up to a centimeter around the tumor itself.
The microbeads, known as a SIR-Spheres, shrank the largest of Pasalasqua's tumors by 25 percent. Now after a second treatment to shrink more of her tumors, doctors think surgery might be an option. Even if the SIR-Spheres hadn't been available, another new treatment at UH might have. It's called the CyberKnife.
Robert Maciunas: The brains of the CyberKnife are here.
Dr. Robert Maciunas directs the Radio Surgery Center at UH. In the sub-basement of University Hospitals, a special vault houses the new device. It takes a special dedicated room just to protect all the wires and circuits.
Robert Maciunas: This roaring that you're hearing in the background are the cooled computers that power both the intelligence of the robot and the treatment planning computers that tells the robot how to treat this individual patient.
Yes, he said robot. It looks like a giant letter Z with a laser pointer on one end. Standing about 10 feet tall, the robot can be programmed to target tumors with concentrated X-Ray beams, even as the tumor moves inside the body as the patient breathes. Maciunas says the CyberKnife uses cameras to track the tumor and hit it with X-Rays without touching patients or cutting them in any way.
Robert Maciunas: So that tiny beam comes out the end of this linear accelerator, and what the robot does is it moves around this imaginary sphere surrounding the patient's anatomy, delivering x-rays from hundreds of different nodes along this sphere. And this robot dances around the patient as they're moving and breathing.
University Hospitals says the multi-million dollar CyberKnife and the SIR-spheres are keeping it on the cutting edge of medical technology. The Cleveland Clinic says the same thing about its new GammaKnife that targets brain tumors. In this "tech race" these new gadgets could give Northeast Ohio's largest Hospitals more than just the prestige of being "the first." They're offering cancer patients a variety of treatments to choose from, and possibly more years of life.
Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.