Lighting the way for Brain Tumor Treatment: LITT


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A cutting edge treatment that was once used mostly on people with uncontrolled seizures is now emerging as a life-saving option for those with brain cancer. Laser interstitial thermal therapy or LITT is helping make lives better for patients that have recurring brain tumors.

This is the Harjo family doing what they like to do best, sharing family time together.

Barry had a large tumor removed from his brain. Michael Sughrue, MD, Director of the Brain Tumor Center at University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma opted to leave in 30 percent so Barry could still communicate. As the tumor began to grow again, Barry was given three weeks to live. He had to decide what to do.

“We can go for broke and take out the whole tumor,” Dr. Sughrue said. (Read Full Interview)

“I was so worried about, all that time was, my wife and my babies all of the time.” Barry “Bear” Harjo told Ivanhoe.

“We decided to be aggressive,” Barry’s wife Robin Harjo explained.

Barry was doing great …. Then a small spot appeared. But technology was on his side with a new procedure called LITT.

“You make an incision about that big and you drop a laser down to the target, a very thin laser fiber through the brain, and the MRI does a very fast repeated MRI over and over again, and the computer constructs a heat map,” Dr. Sughrue explained.

The surgeon can see where the heat is being dispensed and how the tumor is being burned. The patient can go home the next day.

“It was really quick, I was surprised. I was happy I got so much better,” Barry said.

“It was amazing,” Robin agreed.

Dr. Sughrue stated, “We radically changed the whole ball game so chemotherapy is more likely to work on less cancer.”

Those are the kinds of odds the Harjo family can embrace.

Doctors say LITT can also be used to help patients who don’t respond to another form of surgery, called stereotactic radiosurgery, or patients who have tissue death caused by radiation.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Dee Morales, Field Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4274

BACKGROUND: Brain tumors appear from various cells that make up the brain and the central nervous system. The most common types of tumors are from the astrocytes and other forms of glial cells that help keep the nerves healthy. The second most common type is the meningeal tumors. They form in the meninges, which is the thin layer of tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. The symptoms of these tumors vary from type of tumor, the location, and the different types of brain functions. Symptoms may not even appear until the tumors become quite large, and that may result in a quick decline in health.  However, the common initial symptoms usually include headaches.  Other symptoms are seizures, changes of speech, balance problems, numbness in arms or legs, inability to concentrate, memory problems, and changes in personality. To diagnose a brain tumor, a physical and neurological exam is performed. If a brain tumor is suspected, then a doctor will request a CT scan or an MRI of the brain. Another test that may be used is the angiogram or MRA, which contains the use of a dye and X-rays of blood vessels in the brain. The doctor may also ask for a biopsy in order to detect if the brain tumor is a form of cancer.

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STANDARD TREATMENT:  Surgery is typically a treatment for brain tumors. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also used along with surgery. The surgical operation used for brain tumors is craniotomy. Craniotomy is when a neurosurgeon makes an opening in the skull. The surgeon will attempt to remove as much of the tumor as possible. When a tumor cannot be removed, a biopsy needs to be done to determine what type of cells the tumor contains. The technique to do this kind of biopsy is called stereotaxis. This is where a surgeon makes a small hole in the skull and guides a needle to the tumor. Another technique is called brain mapping. Brain mapping finds functional pathways near the tumor. Both are also advanced technologies, along with Intraoperative MRI that is used to maximize tumor removal.

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NEW TECHNOLOGY: Brain laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT), has been FDA cleared and covered and paid for by Medicare. This technology applies a focused laser energy that a surgeon uses to ablate tumors and lesions from the inside of the brain. This is an improvement as the therapy can remove these tumors and lesions that were once deemed inoperable. The complication rates using the laser therapy results in a much lower rate than current treatments of brain tumors. The overall survival of brain LITT is better than current treatments. After studying different cases with the use of this technology, the brain LITT should be considered a viable treatment for high grade gliomas in the brain.

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Travis Doussette

The Harjo Family’s Facebook page is called “Fight Like A Bear”

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Michael Sughrue, MD

Read the entire Q&A