Medical Moment: Fast track to stopping brain cancer

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 8:22 PM EDT
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There are an estimated 700,000 people in the U.S. living with a brain tumor. And for those with cancerous tumors, the five-year survival rate is just 36 percent.

But now, new advanced technologies are giving surgeons the tools they need to not only save lives, but preserve their patient’s quality of life.

From fast cars to fast bikes, Sabrina Leamon is a risk taker! She and her boyfriend T.J. hunt are social media influencers. He builds and modifies cars, they both come up with the content to keep two million subscribers on the edge of their seats. But last year, their journey took an unexpected turn.

“We share our life for a living,” says Sabrina, brain cancer survivor. “So, we were like, ‘Do we want to talk about this personal part?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ The message behind the channel is keep moving forward through whatever life throws at you.”

So, Sabrina shared her story. After suffering a grand mal seizure, she was diagnosed with a grade II diffuse glioma. “They found a mass,” Sabrina says. “I ended up having brain surgery.”

“We’re basically peeling off her entire temporal lobe,” says Thomas Beaumont, assistant professor of neurological surgery at UC San Diego Health.

Beaumont used advanced technology called neuro navigation, fiber tractography, and interoperative MRI scanners. By combining all the images, he created a highly detailed map. “When I’m doing the surgery, this is projected in three-dimensional space to my eyes through the microscope,” Beaumont says.

Sabrina’s team was able to remove all but four percent of the tumor, increasing her survival from 22 months to 15 years. It’s giving science more time to figure out a cure, and Sabrina more time to do what she loves. “You can get through it,” she says. “No matter how dark life is, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Doctors will keep a close watch on the remaining tumor cells, but they believe she will not need another surgery for more than a decade.

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