Seeds of hope implanted in brain cancer patient

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A metro hospital is one of the first in the nation to use a new approach to fighting cancer in the brain.  Surgeons at the University of Kansas Hospital are implanting some tiny radioactive seeds.

Janice Witthuhn of Hays, Kansas, previously had surgery and standard external radiation to fight adenocarcinoma, a rare cancer near her brain stem.  The cancer came back.  More external radiation would be too risky, so doctors at K.U. Hospital recommended the new way of delivering radiation.  Witthuhn and her husband, Van, looked at it two ways.

"It's both a little bit scary and a little bit exciting," he said.

Dr. Paul Camarata first removed tumor that had grown back.  Then he place little strings in the cavity.  Each bump on the string holds a radioactive seed.

"It's cesium 131 isotope which radiates only a very small amount of tissue.  It keeps the radiation very well confined to that area, doesn't result in some of the same wound healing problems we have when we're giving external beam radiation," said the neurosurgeon.

The seeds are active for days.  Past radioactive seed treatments have required tubes to be loaded and removed later.  Patients had to wear a helmet and stay away from others.  That's unnecessary with this treatment.  The strips are left in the brain.

"They're made out of a relatively inert material that's non-reactive, so we think the scar tissue will be minimal," Dr. Camarata said.

One small study found patients were free of cancer 18 months out.  Witthuhn's family is hopeful.

"But only time will tell," Van Witthuhn said.

Dr. Camarata says the seeds are also a promising option for cancers that have spread to the brain from other parts of the body, but he says the seeds won't work for common brain cancers called gliomas.

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