POSTED: Monday, November 28, 2011 - 11:50am
UPDATED: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 3:06pm
MIAMI, FLORIDA- Dominga Ungaro was diagnosed with Stage 3 inoperable pancreatic cancer in January 2010.
"I never was afraid. It was just: 'We'll accept whatever comes this way,'" said Ungaro.
With five children and 16 grandchildren, she had many reasons to fight for her life. She started with chemo.
"That was the first thing and I went through that I had over 25 treatments. In the middle of that they started me with radiation," she said.
Surgery was not an option because the tumor was wrapped around major blood vessels. Then in November 2010 at UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, she became the first pancreatic cancer patient in Florida to have a NanoKnife procedure. Using CT scan imaging for guidance, Dr. Govindarajan Narayanan inserted several long needles into her Ungaro's pancreas.
"We placed four needles to bracket the tumor, on the top and the bottom" explained Narayanan.
Then high voltage electrical currents run between the needles.
"That creates holes in the cell membranes and then kills the tumor cells, but it does not damage to the blood vessels," said Narayanan.
"I woke up didn't know a thing had happened and everything has been really good," said Ungaro.
Five months later she was able to have surgery to remove part of the pancreas.
"He was able to do lab tests right there samples, and there was no sign of cancer at different levels," she said.
Ungaro says she recently had a scan and there is still no sign of cancer. Tumor markers in the blood are also at good levels. Eleven inoperable pancreatic patients have been treated with NanoKnife at Sylvester. So far two patients have gone on to have successful surgeries.
"This is very early stage, and we've done a very small sample but what we've seen so far is that's it's safe, it can be done without opening the patient and early results are promising" added Narayanan.
He has proposed doing a larger study at UM Sylvester. This treatment is keeping hope alive for Ungaro and her family. Earlier in November they took part in a fundraising walk for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. NanoKnife is also being used to treat inoperable tumors in the liver, kidney and lungs.