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The Lancet Oncology

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brachytherapy Used for the First Time in United States to Treat Lung Cancer

A 58-year-old man who lives in Corona, Queens came to the emergency room of New York Hospital Queens (NYHQ) with extreme pain and tingling in his left arm. Although he did not realize it at the time, he had lung cancer. Recently, he made medical history as the first patient in the United States to be treated for lung cancer through the use of radioactive pellets placed directly in the tumor, and today his recovery is going well. Known as brachytherapy, this treatment approach is commonly used to treat prostate cancer.

"Although the patient came in because of pain in his arm, it was not due to an injury. It was discovered that the cause was a Pancoast tumor, a tumor in the lungs that affects the arms and shoulders but rarely causes symptoms, such as cough or shortness of breath, typically associated with the lungs," according to Dattatreyudu Nori, M.D., chairman, Radiation Oncology and one of the world's leading authorities in the subspecialty of brachytherapy.

Pancoast tumors form at the extreme pulmonary apex of either the right or left lung in the superior sulcus. The initial symptom is severe and constant pain in the shoulder, inner part of the scapula, or both.

In addition to general cancer symptoms such as malaise, fever, weight loss and fatigue, pancoast tumor may include a complete Horner’s syndrome caused by damage to the sympathetic nervous system, and in severe and progressive cases, miosis, anhidrosis, ptosis, and brachial plexus.

Dr Nori was the first physician in the United States to work with a computerized brachytherapy treatment system and was instrumental in the development and successful application of it to combat cancer.

The patient was treated with high dose chemotherapy and then underwent treatment with external beam radiation. Although he did have some positive response, the tumor was still present. Because of the location of the tumor, the NYHQ physicians knew that additional conventional treatment could endanger surrounding critical structures including nerves and vessels, and could affect the other organs of his body.

With the options becoming limited, Dr. Nori, along with colleague Paul C. Lee, M.D., the hospital's vice chairman of cardiothoracic surgery, decided to perform a surgical resection of the tumor and then implanted the tumor bed with radioactive Cesium 131 pellets - in a new type of brachytherapy procedure. Brachytherapy involves the implantation of radioactive seeds into the tumor site to kill the remaining cancer cells after surgical resection, while limiting the damage to healthy tissue. Brachytherapy has been successful in treating prostate cancer, but had never been used to treat this form of aggressive lung cancer.

"The tumor was very aggressive. We decided to use radioactive Cesium-131 pellets due to their high success rate in treating prostate cancer. This patient has responded well to the treatment, with an outcome that would not have been possible with traditional treatment," reports Dr. Nori.

According to Dr. Nori, Cesium-131 pellets have several advantages over the older radioactive isotopes including a shorter half-life, which means faster delivery of a radiation dose that allows less time and opportunity for the cancer cells to repopulate.

Dr. Nori has trained several hundred physicians in the U.S. on the use of brachytherapy procedures in the treatment of cancer, and more recently on the use of Cesium-131 in lung cancer treatment. He is renowned in the field of radiation oncology and for pioneering the use of use of radioactive isotopes to treat prostate cancer. He was one of the first to use the radioactive isotopes Iodine-125 and Palladium-103 in 1975 and 1985 as well as Cesium-131, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003 for treating prostate and other cancers.

New York Hospital Queens is a member of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

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