June 24, 2015

LifeBridge Health Offers New Technique Using Microwave Energy to Ease Pain from Spinal Tumors

Treatment May Help Patients Whose Cancer Has Spread to the Spine

James Frazier, M.D.Baltimore, MD - Many patients with advanced cancers experience significant pain, and the pain caused by metastases (cancers that have spread to the spine) can be excruciating as tumor growth replaces bone. This can be especially true if the tumor is touching or pinching a nerve. Although medication may help ease the pain, many medications have side effects and do not address the underlying issue of the tumor growth.

Now doctors at the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute at LifeBridge Health are offering a new technique to reduce pain from these spinal tumors. The STAR tumor ablation system uses radio waves and microwave energy to heat and destroy tumors. Surgeons then deposit a liquefied cement to stabilize the bone.

“Many cancers, including prostate, melanoma and breast cancer, can spread to the spine, causing a great deal of pain for patients who may already be dealing with other medical issues with their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” says James Frazier, M.D., a neurosurgeon and spine specialist at the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute at LifeBridge Health.

“With the STAR treatment, we are able to reduce or eliminate that pain and improve the quality of life for these patients,” adds Dr. Frazier.

During the procedure, doctors use X-ray guidance to place a probe through a small incision in the spinal tumor. Then, using a steerable radio wave antenna, microwave energy heats the tumor to 120 degrees to destroy the cells. However, when the tumor is destroyed, the spine can be unstable, so surgeons add a liquid cement to fill the tumor void and support the bone.

Doctors often perform the procedure using only light sedation, local anesthesia and a small incision, and it typically take less than an hour. Patients can usually go home the same day.

“It’s important to understand that while this procedure relieves pain in the spine, it does not treat the underlying cancer. However, pain from these spinal tumors can be debilitating, so any relief can make a huge difference for these patients. While the cancer may still be there, the pain is not,” says Dr. Frazier.

Tumors in the cervical, or upper spine, cannot be treated with the procedure. Also, patients with pacemakers or other electronic implants are not eligible for this treatment.

About LifeBridge Health: LifeBridge Health is one of the largest, most comprehensive providers of health services in Maryland. LifeBridge Health includes Sinai Hospital, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, and related subsidiaries and affiliates. For more information, visit www.lifebridgehealth.org


Helene King