Surgeons Beating an Old Foe With a New Tool

“You have a brain tumor.”

Five frightening words for any patient to hear. Five difficult and life changing words for any physician to say out loud. These tumors can be primary, arising in the brain, or metastatic, traveling to the brain from other parts of the body. There will be nearly 70,000 new cases of primary malignant brain tumors diagnosed this year in the United States. Metastatic tumor (mets) cases occur at higher incidence with up to 170,000 new cases diagnosed this year. As our population ages, we are seeing mets cases on the rise.

Patients and their families often feel helpless as they face potential disease related cognitive and motor deficits, costly hospital stays, difficult rehab, and a recovery that can be lengthy and very uncertain. While many treatments are offered, radiation and surgery remain the standard of care.  The surgical option is often most desirable, but it can also be a risky option.

The standard of care for brain surgery has not changed significantly over the years. Until recently, a surgeon’s best plan would be to plot the shortest path to the tumor, hoping to minimize damage caused by cutting through brain tissue between the skull and the tumor. Survival is “success,” even though patients often are left to cope with the results of collateral brain tissue damage.