New procedure uses a laser to cook and kill brain tumors

Cancerous brain tumors are the most difficult to treat. They spread fast and kill more than 13,000 people every year.

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

Brain cancer -- Senator Ted Kennedy is fighting it, the Beatles' George Harrison and film critic Gene Siskel died from it, and Donald Thompson is a survivor of it.

"The type of tumor I had was very aggressive,” says Donald. “When they told me it was malignant, it was even worse."

For the first time in the world, neurosurgeon Gene Barnett from the Cleveland Clinic 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. The laser probe shoots out the side and heats the tissue next to it," explains Dr. Barnett.

An MRI-guided laser helps the surgeon see in real-time as he steers 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," says Dr. Barnett.

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

"This is much less invasive than even our most minimally invasive open operations."

Less than four months ago, Donald had just months to live. Now?

"The last time I looked at the MRI, that sucker was deader than a hammer."

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

REPORT: MB #3027

BACKGROUND: About 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with malignant primary brain tumors each year, according to the National Brain Tumor Society. Glioblastoma multiforme are one of the most difficult to treat. This is because they are difficult to remove entirely through surgery since the cancer cells aren't contained in a solid mass, but spread throughout the brain. Glioblastomas are a type of astrocytoma, a tumor type that accounts for 25 to 30 percent of gliomas -- the most commonly diagnosed primary brain tumor, according to the International RadioSurgery Assocation. A primary brain tumor is one that begins in the brain.

GLIOBLASTOMA MULTIFORME: Glioblastoma multiforme is a malignant tumor of the brain that contains areas of dead tumor cells. Glioblastomas normally contain more than one type of cell, so while treatment may kill one cell type, the other cells continue to multiply. This type of tumor is the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor in adults aged 45 to 74. Men are diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme more often than women. As a brain tumor like a glioblastoma grows, it may interfere with the normal functions of the brain. The American Brain Tumor Association says symptoms to watch out for include headaches, seizures, memory loss and behavior changes.

TREATMENTS: Usually, the first step in treating a brain tumor is surgery to diagnose the tumor, remove as much of it as possible, and come up with a treatment plan. Most treatment plans include radiation and chemotherapy. Other therapies that are still under investigation include gene therapy to restore the normal function of tumor suppressing genes within tumor cells and stimulate the body's immune system, as well as vaccines that train the immune system to attack cancer cells in the brain.

Surgeons are beginning to implement various technologies during brain surgery to maximize the amount of cancer that is removed. Brain mapping and functional MRI help neurosurgeons determine which vital areas of the brain to avoid, and image-guided techniques can help the surgeons navigate with surgical tools more precisely.

Cleveland Clinic neurosurgeons are using a laser guided by MRI to coagulate -- or heat and kill -- brain tumors. So far, they have used the laser to treat glioblastomas. "This actually involves passing a 3-millimeter probe down deep into the brain, and we can reach areas that are very difficult if not impossible to safely reach with conventional surgery," Gene Barnett, M.D., a neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, told Ivanhoe. Dr. Barnett says he hopes the laser, called AutoLITT, can eventually be used on a number of different tumors as the only necessary treatment.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Cleveland Clinic 1-888-273-1409

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