When Cynthia Anderson, MD, prepares her patients for stereotactic radiosurgery she emphasizes three things: the surgery is fast, friendly and focused. Initially used to treat the part of the brain associated with brain tumors, stereotactic radiosurgery has gained currency as a treatment for various types of cancer. This type of surgery uses x-ray beams instead of scalpels to eliminate tumors of the liver, lung and spine.
“It’s fast because the actual radiation treatment itself is very short,” says Anderson, a radiation oncologist at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. “It’s friendly because it’s all done as an outpatient. And it’s focused because these targeted radiation beams get the maximum dose of radiation to a tumor and give the most minimal dose of radiation to the critical organs that surround the tumor.”
Stereotactic radiosurgery is really a combination of surgical principals, says Anderson. But because it uses radiation there’s no incision, no anesthesia and no trip to the operating room; and hence, no hospitalization.
And its capability to noninvasively eliminate spinal tumors has made it an ideal way to deliver care to patients whose cancer has metastasized to the spine, a source of acute pain.
“Patients who have metastatic cancer often have more symptoms than those who have early stage cancer,” says Anderson. “They’re more likely to have pain, and they’re more likely to have debilitating side effects from wherever the tumor has spread. And even though they will require chemotherapy to ultimately treat the entire burden of their disease, it’s quite possible they have one area that’s especially symptomatic.”
Anderson and her colleague, Costas Hadjipanayis, MD, PhD, have launched a neuro-oncology clinic at Emory University Hospital Midtown, where stereotactic radiosurgery is being used for spinal surgery. The clinic, says Anderson, embodies a collaborative effort between radiation oncology and neurosurgery.