UM Neurosurgeon Uses Innovative Laser Technique to Eradicate Brain Tumor
When Thomas Jambeck was diagnosed with brain tumors caused by metastatic melanoma in 2011, the 64-year-old West Palm Beach resident underwent radiation and two surgeries. One tumor responded, but the second doubled in size. That’s when his physicians sent him to the Miller School of Medicine for what would be a life-changing procedure.
On February 22, Ricardo Komotar, M.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery, and Director of Surgical Neuro-oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, performed a laser tumor ablation at University of Miami Hospital, the only facility in the southeastern U.S. offering this procedure, to eradicate the problem tumor with pinpoint accuracy.
“Before my treatment I was stumbling all over the place, because the tumor had affected my balance,” Jambeck said at an April 11 news conference with Komotar and Anthony Addesa, M.D., of South Florida Radiation Oncology, who referred Jambeck to UM. “Afterwards, I felt perfect. On the way home from the hospital, my wife and I stopped to run some errands, and I was walking down the aisles at Lowe’s without any problems.”
Using the FDA-approved Visualase Thermal Therapy System, Komotar inserted a tiny 3-millimeter laser probe into Jambeck’s brain. Using magnetic resonance imaging technology, he guided the probe to the tumor and delivered precisely controlled radio-frequency energy to destroy the tumor, without harming healthy brain tissue. The entire procedure took less than an hour and Jambeck spent only one night in the hospital’s intensive care unit for observation.
“This game-changing technology provides hope for brain cancer patients who otherwise have no treatment options,” said Komotar, adding that laser ablation procedures dramatically reduce the medical risks, long patient recovery times and high costs associated with opening the skull and removing the tumor through conventional brain surgery. “This minimally invasive approach is an example of the future of neurosurgery,” he said.
While laser ablation can be used for virtually all types of brain tumors, the procedure is most suited for malignancies deep in the brain that are hard to reach or otherwise inoperable, according to Komotar. “While it is easier to treat smaller tumors, there is no upper limit. In Mr. Jambeck’s case, the tumor was about the size of a half dollar, and we were able to treat it with one laser in just a few minutes.”
Reflecting on his experience, Jambeck, a retired General Motors employee from Michigan, said that his first cancer symptom was swelling in his groin. “My doctors don’t know where the melanoma originated, but it had already spread to other parts of the body,” he said. Jambeck underwent two surgeries in 2012 to remove the groin tumor and related lymph lodes.
Despite the successful removal of the two brain tumors this year, Jambeck said new tumors have appeared. Asked if he had any advice about melanoma, Jambeck said, “Get yourself checked regularly and stay on top of things. Once the cancer cells get into your body, they are hard to treat.”