Lifewatch: Cooking brain tumors

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - Cancerous brain tumors are the most difficult to treat.  They spread quickly and kill more than 13,000 people each year.

Without surgery there's little hope, but doctors have found a way to get rid of cancer in the brain by cooking the tumors away.

"The type of tumor I had was very aggressive," said brain cancer survivor Donald Thompson. "When they told me it was malignant, it was even worse."

For the first time in the world, neurosurgeon Gene Barnett used a laser to cook and kill Donald's brain tumor.

"This is the probe, and at the tip here, this is actually made of sapphire," said Barnett.  "The laser probe shoots out the side and heats the tissue next to it."

An MRI guided laser helps the surgeon see in real-time as he steered through the brain.  The laser heats the tumor, killing it from the inside out.

"We can reach areas that are very difficult if not impossible to safely reach with conventional surgery," said Barnett.

There is a risk of swelling around the tumor, but that swelling is controlled with medication.

"This is much less invasive then even our most minimally invasive open operations," said Barnett.

Less than four months ago Donald had just months to live, but now he is cancer free.

Other new therapies for malignant brain tumors include vaccines and targeted drug therapies based on a tumor's genetic makeup.