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Health Beat: Zapping away spinal tumors

Health Beat: Zapping away spinal tumors

OAKLAND, Calif. - Two-thirds of cancer patients will have their disease spread to their bones. The spine is the most common site and it can mean severe pain as tumors grow and press on nerves. Now, there's a new way to heat up and zap away the cancer.

A simple walk is a victory for Michaelene D'Ambrosio. Six months ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. 

"Seventy percent of my breast tissue was tumor," D'Ambrosio said.

That tumor had spread to her spine, causing severe pain.

"I couldn't bend. I couldn't reach. I couldn't walk. The pain was just constant," D'Ambrosio said.

"It was heartbreaking," said Ashley Johnson, D'Ambrosio's granddaughter.

Then D'Ambrosio found Dr. Rakesh Donthineni, who treats spinal tumors with STAR ablation.

"The goal is truly to kill the tumor," said Donthineni, cancer specialist for spine and extremities.

First, he inserts a needle into the spine. Next, he ablates the tumor with heat that reaches 100 degrees or more. Then, he fills in the hole with cement. The ablation doesn't carry the same side effects as traditional chemo or radiation, and 95 percent of patients report pain relief.

"You're reducing the size of the tumors. You're reducing the effects on improving the quality of life, and that's the goal in these patients," Donthineni said.

"I have been pain-free since the surgery," D'Ambrosio said.

Now, pain doesn't get in the way of spending precious time with her granddaughter Ashley.

The doctor said he can ablate multiple tumors at the same time. Patients may experience some back pain and there's always a risk that the tumors can grow back. The procedure typically takes 45 minutes from start to finish.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Rakesh Donthineni about zapping away spinal tumors

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