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Treating the Untreatable

Category: Patient Stories
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Advanced surgical technique targets previously unreachable brain tumors

St. Luke’s has always been a leader in moving cancer care forward, particularly when treating patients with radiation. Yet despite many technological advancements, some patients with brain tumors have historically had limited treatment options. There has been no way to deliver effective radiation without damaging surrounding tissue—until now.

St. Luke’s Cancer Care Center now offers an advanced form of stereotactic radiosurgery, which uses large single doses of radiation to eliminate brain tumors that were previously untreatable. By combining cutting-edge imaging with precise and powerful radiation, the procedure has dramatically increased cure rates and lowered side effects.

“Stereotactic radiosurgery delivers a more concentrated dose of radiation to cancer cells that have typically been very hard to target,” says Dr. Steve Bonin, radiation oncologist at St. Luke’s. “We can be accurate within one millimeter, so we can completely eradicate a tumor without harming healthy tissue that surrounds it.”

To begin the treatment, a neurosurgeon implants three gold beads within the patient’s skull. The beads, which do not harm the body, appear on X-rays and CT scans to clearly represent the tumor’s exact size and location.

The radiation oncologist, medical physicist and neurosurgeon then use the images to target the tumor with perfect precision and determine the most appropriate radiation dose.

In addition to delivering more precise and powerful radiation, the new procedure allows for greater patient comfort. In the past, a patient receiving radiosurgery was required to wear a restrictive stereotactic head frame attached directly to the skull, and was literally bolted to the table until the procedure was complete. At St. Luke’s, the patient wears a comfortable, frameless mask to remain stabilized during the radiation delivery, which takes just a few minutes.

“The patient is what really counts,” says Dr. William Himango, neurosurgeon at St. Luke’s. He says that St. Luke’s commitment to innovative procedures like stereotactic radiosurgery has prolonged and enhanced patients’ lives and led to more successful outcomes than ever before.

"We’re always evolving at St. Luke’s,” Dr. Himango says. “By working as a team and offering the most advanced techniques available we can focus on each individual patient and care for conditions that were considered untreatable in the past.”