News Release: Emory Healthcare , Research , Winship Cancer Institute

Apr. 13,  2010

Spinal Tumors Now Treated with Radiation Instead of Scalpels: A Novel Multidisciplinary Approach at Emory

News Article ImageCynthia Anderson, MD

Patients diagnosed with metastatic or primary tumors of the spine are now treated with a single and powerful dose of radiation called spinal radiosurgery.

With spinal radiosurgery, selected patients are treated with one dose of the most targeted radiation beams, tailored to their specific type of tumor, while receiving minimal effects to healthy surrounding tissues and organs. These patients avoid surgical removal of their tumors in the operating room or standard radiation therapy involving multiple treatments.

The specialized treatment program, which involves multidisciplinary care from both a radiation oncologist and a neurosurgeon, is based at Emory University Hospital Midtown in a component of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

"We like to think of spinal radiosurgery as fast, friendly and focused," says Cynthia Anderson, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, Emory University School of Medicine. "It is fast because the actual radiation treatment itself is very short. It is friendly because it's done as an outpatient. And it is focused because these precisely targeted beams give the maximum dose of radiation to a tumor, while giving the most minimal dose of radiation to the critical organs and tissues that surround the tumor."

Radiosurgery, used at Emory for the past 20 years, was first used to treat brain tumors. Now radiosurgery is used to treat tumors of the liver, lung and spine, as well as the brain.

Anderson collaborates with Emory neurosurgeon Costas Hadjipanayis, MD, PhD, to plan tailored radiosurgery treatments for each patient. They have recently begun a Neuro-Oncology Clinic at Emory University Hospital Midtown and see patients together to plan their spinal radiosurgery treatment, a unique service to the metro Atlanta area.

"We see patients in our clinic who have primary tumors of the spine or cancers that have metastasized or spread to the spine, and many of these tumors are difficult to surgically remove," says Hadjipanayis, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory and a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scholar. "These tumors can be very painful and have debilitating effects to patients. Spine radiosurgery can noninvasively shrink spinal tumors and simultaneously improve patient pain and quality of life."

Improving patient quality of life in the setting of cancer is known as palliative care. Palliative care is focused on pain relief, stress reduction, and coping with other debilitating symptoms of serious illness rather than providing a cure.

"Because patients with cancers are living longer, palliative care is getting more attention and respect," Anderson explains. "Those who have advanced disease understand that they may no longer be curable, but they need help in pain control and other symptoms to improve quality of life. Spine radiosurgery is now giving us the ability to treat these patients with good success."

Each patient's spinal radiosurgery treatment takes only 15 minutes to administer. Patients achieve pain relief within 48 hours to two weeks after treatment.

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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