New York Methodist Pioneers New Cancer Treatment

Sep 23, 2008

Dr. Martin Zonenshayn and Dr. Hani Ashamalla reading a document

Martin Zonenshayn, M.D., chief of neurosurgery, with Hani Ashamalla, M.D., acting chairman of radiation oncology.

Many advanced cancers, including those originating in the breast, lung and prostate, may metastasize (spread) to the spine. A new, innovative treatment that has been proven to be effective against cancer that has spread to the spine is now available at New York Methodist Hospital (NYM). The new procedure, which was developed at the Hospital, builds on a standard treatment kyphoplasty in which a neurosurgeon injects a cement-like material in the spine to eradicate pain.

We mix Samarium, a radioactive material that kills cancer cells, with the cement-like material that's injected into the spine, said Hani Ashamala, M.D., acting chairman of radiation oncology at New York Methodist and one of the creators of the new technique. This way, there are two benefits: pain control and cancer control.

Called vertebral intracavitary cement and Samarium (VICS, for short), the procedure is performed under local anesthesia in approximately one hour. Most patients feel immediate pain relief and return home the same day. The VICS procedure is attractive because it is minimally invasive, and achieves many surgical goals of a traditional open procedure with significantly less risk, said Martin Zonenshayn, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at NYM.

Samarium, the cancer killing substance that's injected into the spine, is FDA approved for patients with cancer in the bone, but has side effects when given intravenously. However, when it has been injected into the spine, patients have reported no side effects.

As a metastatic tumor grows in the spinal area, it expands, displacing or destroying healthy tissue and creating pressure on the spine, spinal cord, and spinal nerves. Treatment for spinal metastasis depends on the type and location of the tumor, how far the tumor has spread, and the general health of the patient. Common treatment options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery or medication, all of which are available at New York Methodist.

The new technique has been presented at international meetings and has been reported in peer reviewed journals. Almost 50 VICS procedures have been completed at NYM, and bone scans done on patients afterwards show less cancer in the spine, said Dr. Ashamala, who is now teaching the technique to physicians at other metropolitan area hospitals.

For more information on the VICS procedure and other treatment options available at NYM, please call 718-780-3677.