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Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Cancer Channel
Reported March 11, 2009

Laser for Brain Surgery

laserCHICAGO (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Lasers have been used in surgery for decades, but they're often too cumbersome for delicate procedures in the brain. A new device that's as small and light as a pen is helping doctors maneuver around fragile parts of the body. It helped a Vietnam Veteran win his battle against a brain tumor.

Stephen and Jill Abbott have always shared a love of history. That's because they were part of it. Stephen's 27-year army career took them around the world.

"I spent a year in Vietnam during the Vietnam conflict," Stephen told Ivanhoe.

Retirement agreed with them, until Stephen's hearing started to go. A simple hearing aid appointment led to a shocking discovery.

"They did an MRI and found that I had a brain tumor," Stephen said. "I was flabbergasted."

A tumor the size of a plum was attached to one of the major veins draining blood from Stephen's brain. Instead of cutting it out with traditional tools, Andrew Fishman, M.D., a neurotologist and skull base surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Ill., used a pen-shaped carbon dioxide laser. Originally designed for the Department of Defense to reflect enemy laser beams, the fiber-optic device now allows surgeons to melt and shave off tumors.

"We're really able to almost brush stroke the surface with only a minimal effect on the brain tissue," Dr. Fishman told Ivanhoe.

Traditionally, lasers were too bulky for brain surgery and could only be used at straight angles. Surgeons say this device speeds up surgery, which means smaller incisions and quicker recoveries.

Stephen went home five days after his brain surgery.

"The body can overcome a lot of things a lot more difficult than one might imagine," he said.

laserStephen refused to surrender to any kind of enemy -- even a brain tumor.

It took about an hour to remove Stephen's entire tumor. The laser is also being used in spinal surgery, head and neck procedures and hearing restoration.

More Information

Click here for additional research on Laser for Brain Surgery

Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Dr. Fishman

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at


Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Public Relations: Amy Dobrozsi
(312) 926-5900

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