Moffitt Onco Update

Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy Treats Otherwise Inoperable Brain Tumors

April 14, 2015

DrArnold-Etame640.jpg Dr. Arnold Etame Performs Neurosurgery with Laser Technology

Moffitt Cancer Center is now treating brain lesions with Visualase — a new technology that uses laser ablation to destroy tumors found in soft tissue in the brain. 

Neurosurgery can be difficult and risky due to proximity to critical structures, and radiation therapy can damage healthy brain tissue. Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) is an innovative technique that allows the neurosurgeon to ablate brain tumors in difficult to reach locations that conventional surgical approaches would not allow. 

Visualase surgical technology uses light energy to destroy soft tissue, including tumor or damaged tissue. Energy is delivered through a laser probe, causing temperatures in the target area to rise and unwanted tissue to be destroyed. Because LITT is guided by MRI images, the procedure can provide precise targeting. It has been reported to be pain-free and require a short recovery time. Other advantages of LITT include: 

  • Can be performed with patient wide awake
  • Requires no radiation or skull flap
  • Usually requires only a one-day hospital stay
  • Does not limit use of other treatment options
  • Often performed on otherwise inoperable tumors/lesions  
Visualase® provides minimally invasive advanced MRI-guided laser technology for thermal neuro-ablation (Image courtesy of Medtronic)
Visualase® provides minimally invasive advanced MRI-guided laser technology for thermal neuro-ablation (Image courtesy of Medtronic)

Using the Visualase technology at Moffitt is Arnold B. Etame, MD, PhD, attending neurosurgeon, scientist and Assistant Professor of Oncological Sciences at USF Morsani College of Medicine. Dr. Etame is advancing state-of-the-art care utilizing and engineering best practices for the treatment of brain and spinal tumors, and his belief in personal care for patients and families fosters the best possible outcomes. 

Laser neuro-ablation works by inserting a small, flexible laser probe into the brain. The probe is no larger than a coffee stirrer. An MRI compatible anchor is attached to the skull entry, which allows a laser applicator to be affixed. Using MRI imaging allows precise location of the tumor, and the laser applicator is inserted into the lesion. Laser light then heats and destroys the targeted area, while doctors monitor live information on the surrounding healthy brain tissue to minimize damage. Once the tumor is destroyed, the probe is removed and the small incision is closed with one stitch and a bandage. Patients are typically discharged from the hospital within a day.

In February 2015, Dr. Etame performed Moffitt's first LITT brain tumor procedure. This surgical ablation procedure was extremely successful. The tumor was completely destroyed, painlessly, and the patient was discharged the following day.

"Some patients are symptomatic, they have paralysis, speech or vision problems, but they are not good surgical candidates," explains Dr. Etame. "The Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy will not replace standard open brain surgery, but it will provide a better alternative in some of these cases." 

Video courtesy of Medtronic

Read more in Florida MD, April 2015