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New Brain Tumor Treatments Offer Hope

Mateo Ziu, MD, MBA, is a board-certified neurosurgeon. He is the medical director of the Inova Brain and Spine Tumor Program.

As a neurosurgeon with specialized training in tumors of the brain and spine, I see many patients with hard-to-treat brain tumors. It’s always a balancing act to remove tumors while protecting vital brain tissue.

Now, cutting-edge innovations are helping us strike a better balance than ever before. With these new technologies, my colleagues and I are able to treat patients whose tumors might have been described as “inoperable” just a few years ago.

Brain Tumor Surgery: New Tools

Surgery is an important weapon in our arsenal against brain tumors. And it is becoming even safer and more precise, thanks to recent advances in brain tumor surgery:

  • MRI tractography. This technology uses MRI imaging to create a 3D picture of the nerve tracts in the brain. Using this tool, we can make a detailed plan to remove the tumor while protecting nearby brain structures from damage.
  • Fluorescein dye. Some types of tumor tissue are very similar in appearance to healthy brain tissue. Now, we can use a dye to help us tell them apart. Before surgery, the patient swallows a dye that attaches only to tumor cells. During surgery, we use a special microscope that allows us to see which cells glow with the fluorescent dye. This technique allows us to better define the area where tumor cells are located so that we can remove as much of the tumor as possible — and leave healthy cells behind.
  • Nico BrainPath® Some brain tumors are located deep in the brain. Traditional surgery isn’t an option for these tumors because we have to damage too much healthy brain tissue to reach them. In some cases, we can use a new tool called BrainPath®, which separates delicate brain tissue during surgery to minimize damage. The tool lets us reach some tumors that were once considered inoperable. 
  • Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT). Some deep tumors can’t be treated safely, even with the BrainPath®. Another new option is to use a laser to destroy the tumor. The LITT technique allows us to treat some patients whose tumors would have been untreatable just a few years ago.  

Designing the Right Brain Tumor Treatment

About 688,000 people in the United States are living with brain tumors that began in the brain or spinal cord, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. Each year, another 80,000 people are diagnosed with these “primary” brain tumors.

There are more than 120 different types of primary brain tumor, and every patient is unique. Treatment depends on the type of tumor, as well as on its location. We also have to consider each patient’s lifestyle and wishes. A singer may be concerned about protecting brain regions that control hearing and ability to read music. A carpenter might be worried about preserving brain areas that control hand movements. Treatment for brain tumors has to be customized for each and every patient. 

Team Approach to Brain Tumor Treatment

At Inova, we have some of the best new surgical tools in the region. But the point isn’t to own the latest technology. Our goal is to provide the safest, most effective option for each unique patient.

At our tumor treatment clinic, experts from different specialties sit down together to design a treatment plan for each patient. I bring my expertise as a neurosurgeon with advanced training in brain and spine tumors, and I collaborate with experts in radiation oncology, medical oncology and other specialties. A patient can see all of the specialists on the same day, at the same time. The result is coordinated care that leads to better outcomes for our patients.

Learn more about the Inova Brain and Spine Tumor Program, where our experts treat benign and malignant brain, spine and pituitary tumors. 

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