Henry Ford neurosurgery team first in Michigan, second in world to complete groundbreaking laser spinal ablation procedure
The innovative cancer treatment known as spinal laser interstitial thermal therapy (SLITT) destroys cancer cells that are adjacent to the spine without the need for open surgery. SLITT is a minimally invasive procedure that allows a patient to recover within days, instead of the months of recovery that are necessary for open surgery.
“We’ve offered laser ablation as an effective brain cancer treatment since 2013, but using it to treat cancer that has metastasized to the spine is a newer approach,” says Henry Ford neurosurgeon Ian Lee, M.D. “Cancer metastasizing to the spine is common, and SLITT will offer many patients a treatment option with quicker recovery and reduced risk of infection.”
RECURRENT, METASTASIZED CANCER
For Jacquelyn Donley, SLITT was a promising alternative treatment option for what would otherwise require a more invasive open surgery.
Jacquelyn was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. Following the successful removal of the left lobe of her lung, she underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. These were effective for her until 2017, when she had a recurrence that doctors learned had metastasized to a different area of her body – her spine.
To treat her metastasized cancer, Henry Ford radiation oncologist Mira Shah, M.D., used the Edge® Radiosurgery System. Following the procedure, all signs of cancer on Jacquelyn’s spine were gone until the spring of 2019, when it appeared again.
Jacquelyn’s care team met and determined she was a strong candidate for SLITT. Stereotactic radiation therapy is a common treatment for patients whose cancer has metastasized to the spine. But, if the tumor is touching the spinal cord, it must be separated before radiation can be safely used. Prior to SLITT, patients would have to undergo open surgery to treat these tumors. As was the case with Jacquelyn, SLITT is ideal for patients who have already received the maximum cumulative dose of radiation to the spine and are not strong candidates for open surgery. Since undergoing SLITT, Jacquelyn is recovering well.
BETTER PROGNOSIS, QUICKER RECOVERY
In addition to providing an alternative option to open spine surgery for patients like Jacquelyn, SLITT offers several other benefits.
“Patients who have metastatic cancer to the spine typically have a poor prognosis,”
Dr. Lee says. “All of them are on chemotherapy and are sick. With open surgery, they may have to stop their chemotherapy for at least a month. With spinal laser ablation, it may only be days.” Dr. Lee also notes that SLITT patients recover much faster – days, not months – and the procedure reduces the chance that a patient will need spinal fusion.
“Even with small incisions, spinal procedures can introduce instability and require placing spinal fusion hardware. With newer techniques such as SLITT, we can avoid spinal fusion in some cases.”
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