ORANGE PARK, Fla. – A fairly new radiation treatment is helping patients diagnosed with cancerous brain tumors. This story shows images of actual brain surgery. Viewer discretion is advised.
May is National Brain Tumor Awareness Month and News4JAX received an exclusive look at GammaTile Therapy.
GammaTile Therapy is an FDA-approved procedure that won’t save you from brain cancer, but experts say it will buy you more time and improve your quality of life while you deal with the brain cancer.
“I think it’s going to be a major game changer for patients who have tumors that have spread from elsewhere in their body,” Dr. Michael Horowitz, a neurosurgeon specialist at HCA Florida Orange Park Hospital, said.
Patient Robert Vigil underwent brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Although he received traditional radiation therapy following the surgery, the tumors grew back from cancer cells the radiation did not destroy. He went to HCA Florida Orange Park Hospital where Horowitz performed GammaTile Therapy.
“I was amazed at the hospital to see Dr. Horowitz,” Vigil said. “He said I can help you. And I said let’s do it.”
Dr. Horowitz said he took out the tumor that had grown back.
“The area where I took the tumor out, since the patient could not get any more radiation the traditional way because it would have damaged the brain, so instead, I put the gamma tiles in to just give local radiation to the cavity and the wall of the cavity where I took the tumor out.”
Typically, when a cancerous tumor is removed from the brain, a patient will still undergo radiation and or chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells that are left at the site of the tumor removal. But patients can only receive so many rounds of radiation or chemotherapy. This is where gamma tiles come into play. These thin wafer-like tiles infused with radiation are inserted into the area where the tumor was removed.
“It’s a low-dosage radiation that doesn’t penetrate or travel very far,” Horowitz said.
How it works is the radiation stays in the immediate area where the tumor was removed. Over time, the tiles become absorbed into the brain, so there is no need to have follow-up surgery to remove them.
According to medical experts, more than 200,000 people a year are diagnosed with some form of brain cancer. More than half of the patients treated for a brain tumor learn the tumor grows back within the same year– despite aggressive therapies. In a clinical study, GammaTile Therapy extended the time of a tumor reemerging with limited side effects.
Dr. Horowitz said there are some patients who would not qualify for GammaTile Therapy due to the location of the tumor.
“A patient I don’t believe has a tumor that a surgeon doesn’t believe they can remove 90 percent or more of it,” Horowitz said. “A tumor that is in the brain stem often will not be eligible for this because we don’t want to give this radiation to the brain stem, or a tumor that is too close to the optic nerve.”
While GammaTile Therapy is not a cure for brain cancer, it still buys a patient more time to live. Vigil said he is very aware of that.
“I’m a very positive person and I think the positivity helps out a bit.”