For some spinal tumor and breast cancer patients, too hot or too cold is just right

Surgeons at MD Anderson are using extreme heat and cold as their weapons against some forms of cancer. They’re finding that the minimally invasive treatments are working as well as, if not better than, standard cancer treatments for many patients. Recovery is dramatically quicker. Quality of life is better. Patients are more satisfied. Turning up the heat on spinal cord tumors MD Anderson patients with certain metastatic spine tumors are benefiting from the work of Claudio Tatsui, M.D., a spine surgery specialist in our Brain and Spine Center. Instead of performing a standard surgery by making a large skin incision with extensive muscle dissection and bone removal, Tatsui inserts a small laser probe – about the size of a pencil lead –into the tumor. Once in place, intense heat scorches the cancer cells. A specially equipped MRI, located in the same operating room, allows Tatsui to precisely control where the treatment is delivered. This protects nearby vital organs and immediately verifies that the tumor has been destroyed. “We use the heat to kill the cancer cells, and the MRI mapping allows us to precisely apply the laser only inside the tumor, protecting the spinal cord and nerves,” Tatsui says. “Recovery from this procedure is very quick – a day or two rather than weeks, which allows patients to resume their chemotherapy quicker as well.” The procedure, called laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT), has been traditionally used at MD Anderson to treat hard-to-reach brain tumors. Tatsui has expanded its use to include for the first time treatment of spinal metastasis with spinal cord compression. He has adapted some of the...