Brain cancer treatment is evolving every day, and laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT) is one of the most significant new advancements.
A minimally invasive surgical technique, LITT uses a small laser to destroy unhealthy brain tissue. Also known as laser ablation, LITT is an effective treatment option for patients with brain tumors, radiation necrosis (cell damage) and certain types of epilepsy. It provides the benefits of traditional brain surgery with less risk and little to no recovery time.
“LITT is a major advancement that provides major advantages for our patients,” says Yaron A. Moshel, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center at Atlantic Health System. “Because it’s minimally disruptive to the brain, it’s suitable for most patients, even those on chemotherapy who can’t have open surgery. Offering this effective, innovative treatment is just one of the many cutting-edge techniques we use to deliver the very best brain tumor care.”
During the procedure, a neurosurgeon opens a very tiny hole in the skull while the patient is asleep under anesthesia. Then, using stereotactic guidance (a GPS system for the brain based on an MRI scan) and, sometimes, a robotic arm, the surgeon places a thin fiberoptic probe in the area of the brain to be treated. The remainder of the procedure is completed in an MRI machine, where a laser beam travels through the probe to thermally treat the tumor.
“Most people think of a laser as something from Star Wars. In reality, a laser is an extraordinarily precise device,” Dr. Moshel explains. “With proper monitoring, the laser directs controlled heat inside the tumor and destroys malignant cells without damaging the healthy tissue that surrounds it. The heating and cooling of the laser is automatically regulated to prevent damage to healthy tissue.”
While the heat from the laser is being deployed within a tumor – or creating a lesion in the region of the brain that is causing epileptic seizures – the MRI is used as a 3-D thermometer. Providing live imaging and feedback in real time, the MRI determines how far the heat has spread and verifies the efficacy of the procedure.
At the end of the procedure, the probe is removed, and, if necessary, the tiny incision is sealed. The body’s natural immune system then cleans up the debris left behind after the thermally treated tumor cells disintegrate.
“With LITT, patients are spared the physical stress and recovery that comes with open surgery,” Dr. Moshel adds. “They have little to no hair removal, minimal scarring, and because the incision is so small, they usually require little to no recovery time. Many go home the day of the procedure or the next day.”
LITT technology is rapidly becoming standard practice and an accepted adjunct to surgery and radiation therapy.