Laser Therapy for Brain Tumors

Laser ablation is a minimally invasive technique to treat brain and spinal tumors. And we’ve been doing laser ablation at Henry Ford for about the last seven years and in the course of doing so, now with more than a hundred patients that we’ve treated, what we’ve learned is that the patients recover very quickly with a lower side effect profile compared to open surgery, a lower risk of infection, lower risk of stroke.

It’s essentially a laser fiber that gets placed precisely inside a tumor inside the brain, allows us to heat up the tissue and essentially killed tumor cells without having to open the skull or traverse the brain in the traditional way. For tumors that are deeply seated in the brain several centimeters from the surface, in some cases underlying areas that are eloquent or super functional for patients like sensory or motor or even language, we’re able to put a two-millimeter laser catheter of fibers through around those areas and treat tumors that we would never be able to treat before.

There are size limitations to what you can treat with a laser catheter. Generally speaking for our uses for laser ablation, we can treat tumors up to three to three and a half centimeters in diameter. Laser ablation requires very specialized technology that’s only really available at a few centers. It requires a very, very fine staircase and guidance, meaning guiding the laser fiber into the correct location. Here at Henry Ford hospital, we use a robot to do that to get really within a millimeter of the intended target. It also relies very heavily on the intraoperative MRI. What that allows us to do is to visualize the heating of the tissues in real time and in doing so very finally control the heat and as it spreads to the tumor and the surrounding tissues to prevent damage to the potentially important tissue that surrounds the brain tumor that we’re trying to treat.

When a patient is trying to decide whether to have a laser ablation or an open surgery, you really have to sit down and go over what we know about both treatments and what the specifics are for each individual. – It is a great treatment for a select group of patients. It’s not for everybody, but for the right patient, it offers a less invasive, low-risk procedure with minimal recovery time compared to more traditional open surgical techniques. – People are staying in the hospital on an observational stay. They come in for their procedure. They go home sort of the next day after just an overnight for a little monitoring and perhaps a scan in the morning and people do quite well. And so the combination of not being able to treat these tumors before and now being able to treat them and get out of the hospital and on with their lives or perhaps even on with additional treatments without having to delay, that’s the game changer.

Mainly it’s been used for primary tumors of the brain, meaning gliomas, glioblastomas of that nature. Also we use it for metastatic tumors and the other large patient group that we use it for are patients with those types of tumors that have been previously treated with radiation, what can we call it? Radiation necrosis or a treatment effect from the radiation itself which can sometimes act like a tumor. – So when it comes to comparing the results you get when you’re treating a tumor with the laser versus an open craniotomy, the results look similar because at the end of the day, you’re killing tumor cells. And so whether you take out the whole tumor or you ablate the whole tumor with the laser, we’re getting a similar result.