Jefferson neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists wrap radiation around spine for cancer pain relief

Using the most advanced radiation technology currently available in the region, neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists at the Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia have for the first time wrapped beams of radiation around a patient's spine, relieving pain from several cancerous tumors there while avoiding the spinal cord.

The technology, called shaped beam surgery, relies on sophisticated computers to tailor the shape and intensity of radiation beams to fit the exact size and shape of the tumor all while sparing healthy tissue. It enables doctors to treat a range of hard-to-reach benign and malignant tumors in the brain and spine they couldn't treat before, often avoiding invasive surgery and speeding the patient's recovery.

Neurosurgeon David Andrews, M.D., professor of neurosurgery at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and director of the Division of Neuro-oncologic Neurosurgery and Stereotactic Radiosurgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, used shaped beam surgery to treat the patient, a 46-year-old woman from Levittown, Pa., who had two tumors on her spine that had spread from another cancer elsewhere in the body. One tumor was pressing on the spinal cord, causing considerable pain. Treating the tumors with standard radiation was impossible because she had already received spine radiation more than 20 years earlier for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

According to one of her physicians, neurosurgeon Ashwini Sharan, M.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at Jefferson Medical College, the woman would have needed three separate surgeries, including abdominal surgery to reach the cancer in her lumbar spine, and back surgery to reconstruct her spine with medical screws.

He explains that cancer in the spine is almost invariably considered advanced metastatic disease, and patients usually have an uncertain prognosis. "The only other option besides radiosurgery i


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