New Tech Treating Brain Tumors

“You have a brain tumor” is one of the scariest sentences a person can hear. 

But thanks to a revolutionary new technology called GammaTile®, doctors could soon accompany such grim pronouncements with the following reassurance: “But there’s reason to be hopeful.”

In technical terms, GammaTile employs a type of brachytherapy – localized radiation therapy utilizing inserted seeds, ribbons, or capsules to target radiation near a cancerous growth.

In everyday terms, it’s nothing short of a miracle.  

Brachytherapy has been successfully employed for years to treat certain cancers.

“The idea is that when you have a disease where surgery is potentially helpful, but you can’t take everything out, and you want to treat the edges, brachytherapy is a good way to directly deliver focused radiation right there,” explained Johnathan Engh, MD, FAANS. 

Dr. Engh is a neurosurgeon at Lexington Brain and Spine Institute and specializes in awake craniotomy, minimally invasive port surgery for brain tumors, stereotactic radiosurgery, and spinal tumor removal, among other procedures. 

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2018 for use in treating recurrent brain tumors, GammaTile was granted additional FDA clearance for treating newly diagnosed malignant tumors in 2020. It is planted into the brain at the conclusion of the surgery.

“They are very small squares, one centimeter in diameter,” Engh said, “They’re placed along the edges of the cavity after the tumor is removed. They allow the radiation to work right into the edges of where you’ve operated, to try to prevent relapses of the tumor.”   

With GammaTile, radiation treatment is delivered at the site from inside the brain itself, directed at areas that are most at risk while also protecting healthy tissue. Insertion usually only takes around five minutes and is far less involved than typical radiation treatments.

“The most common tumors that we’ll see in that scenario are lung cancers, breast cancers, melanomas and kidney cancers,” Engh continued. “So, this is a very good treatment option for people who must have surgery for brain tumors that are not completely curable with surgery. And that’s certainly the majority of adults.” 

GammaTile radiation goes to work almost immediately, with 50 percent of its dosage being released within the first 10 days. By six weeks, more than 95 percent of its dosage has been delivered.

After the operation, the device does not need to be surgically removed. The tile dissolves over time and is absorbed into the body. There is a cosmetic benefit to the treatment, too, as just one out of 74 patients who received the implant reported experiencing hair loss.  

Lexington Medical Center recently received approval to use the device – making it one of only a handful of medical facilities in South Carolina authorized to perform the treatment.

“For all the people who need the operation, who need the surgery, there are a lot of aspects of GammaTile that are more attractive than having to wait and do radiation after the surgery,” Engh said.

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