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Brain Tumor Technology in El Paso

POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2009 - 7:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:24pm

EL PASO--- One of the treatments used to shrink Sen. Ted Kennedy's brain tumor is now available at Sierra Medical Center in El Paso.

It's one of 38 like it in the world, one of 22 in the United States.

Newschannel 9's Adrienne Alvarez finds out how it works and how it's helping people here at home.

Ray Canaba can now talk to his neurosurgeon.
A simple task he wasn't able to do 10 months ago.

"I was having trouble with my memory, my walking, my speech, and my writing," he said.

To blame?
A tumor the size of an orange found on his brain.
Dr. David Masel operated on his brain and removed most of the growth, but what was left was too dangerous to operate on.

"I had a chance to either suffer a stroke or bleed to death or go comatose, or not make it off the table," Canaba said.

It was then that Dr. Masel turned to one machine for the next step.
It's called the Gamma Knife "Perfexion."

"We can treat certain tumors in certain locations we couldn't treat before and so many more patients can be helped," said Masel, who's treated 12 patients since June with the new machine.

It's a $4 million-dollar-upgrade from a 15-year-old machine.

After taking several images of the brain, using MRIs and the like, a team of doctors first pinpoints hard to reach tumors.
Then, they shrink them with doses of gamma rays.
The process is said to be quick.

Beforehand, the doctors would have to stop the procedure, walk into the room, re-position the patient, then leave the room again so they can restart the radiation. But now, the patient's bed is powered with hydraulics, and doctors use one controller to maneuver through it all.

"With this new machine, I was able to go through the procedure in 25 minutes. That's without any incision," said Canaba.

No incision, no three-hour procedure, no expensive hospital stay.
But if you ask Ray what's the biggest benefit?

"Since then I've been progressing. I got a second chance at life, you know? What more can you ask?"

Doctors say the exact cost to use the "Perfexion" varies per patient, but add that insurance companies are more willing to cover its costs over expensive invasive brain surgery.

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