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Taylor Swift recently shared an update about her mom’s ongoing battle with cancer – they found a brain tumor during her treatment. The family is still determining their treatment options.
While any cancer diagnosis is accompanied by concern, doctors and researchers are constantly searching for new ways to treat brain cancer. Techniques to prevent, identify and shrink brain tumors are among the top priorities of cancer researchers.
The biggest discoveries: non-surgical or minimally invasive approaches.
This includes radiation therapy, accurate to the millimeter and guided by brain scans, that precisely targets tumors. Another device directs electric fields at a tumor through electrodes placed on the head.
A third technology is a minimally invasive approach that uses a small probe to directly blast a tumor with heat.
AdventHealth is the only health care provider in Central Florida to offer these three innovative technologies:
Each technology has its own approach, but they share the strategy of hitting difficult-to-reach tumors without the risks of brain surgery.
Even when a cure is unlikely, these technologies are aimed at extending a patient’s life without the side effects or other limitations that can come with other treatments.
For someone with brain cancer, a treatment without the side effects of chemotherapy and recovery time of surgery is important, says Herbert Newton, MD, FAAN, a board-certified neuro-oncologist with AdventHealth who has over 30 years of experience in his field.
Gamma Knife radiation therapy, for example, takes about an hour, is painless and allows the patient to resume their regular activities the next day.
Along with chemotherapy and traditional radiation, brain surgery remains an important technique. But these non-invasive or minimally invasive technologies are offering more ways to slow down tumor growth, Dr. Newton says.
This technology hasn’t replaced our human touch. We still anticipate the physical, mental and spiritual needs of brain cancer patients. Our chaplains and social workers can help patients tap into their spirituality, especially during challenging moments.
Here’s a closer look at the three technologies we’re using to give time and hope to people with brain cancer.
Gamma Knife Targets Radiation
Though it has long been an effective tool, radiation does not differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue. Its use in the brain has often come with short-term side effects like headaches, hair loss and seizures. Its long-term effects can last for many years.
But Gamma Knife is different. It uses real-time imaging to target radiation — accurate to within one millimeter — right at the tumor.
It is sometimes used in patients with smaller tumors that are difficult to reach with conventional surgery.
Optune Uses Electric Fields to Disrupt Tumor Cells
AdventHealth is also a center for the Optune device. It sends electric fields into a tumor through four electrodes placed on the head.
These fields are thought to prevent tumor cells from reproducing or kill the cells outright.
Optune is used to treat glioblastomas, which are tumors that spread out in many directions. These tumors are particularly difficult to eliminate completely, so treatment may focus on slowing them down.
Optune is often used alongside other treatments, such as chemotherapy. But, like the Gamma Knife, it is targeted precisely at the tumor.
It can also be used almost anywhere, including at your home or while traveling.
Laser Therapy (LITT) Blasts Tumors With Heat
Another relatively new technology, Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy, or LITT, does require surgery, but it uses a much smaller incision than typical brain surgery. It works like this.
A small hole is drilled into the skull, through which a thin laser probe is inserted. This probe is guided by brain imaging to the tumor, where it applies a blast of heat.
“It’s basically boiling the tumor tissue,” Dr. Newton says.
Like other technological approaches, it is sometimes used for patients whose tumors have not responded to other therapy. Studies have shown it can benefit patients with inoperable brain tumors.
Bringing Optimism to Life
These technologies can shrink tumors, but they can also offer something less concrete but still crucial: hope. Patients who try multiple approaches know they’re fighting cancer in every way they can.
AdventHealth's CREATION Life philosophy teaches that choice can help us feel that our lives are under control, which can make us happier and healthier.
Dr. Newton says a positive attitude helps us in meaningful ways, including by strengthening our body’s ability to fight off cancer and other ailments. A patient who loses that optimism often does not do as well, he says.
At the AdventHealth Cancer Institute, the latest technology is fused with a holistic treatment philosophy that attacks tumors while nurturing the mind and spirit.