Brain cancer surgery is an especially dicey operation when it involves removing a piece of the skull and exposing the brain. For years, there was no other alternative. But in a landmark operation, doctors at the University of Texas Southwestern demonstrated that there is, indeed, a less invasive option by extracting the brain tumor from the ear, using endoscopic techniques.
Vertigo-inducing tumors, known formally as acoustic neuromas, are often located in temporal lobe of the brain, near the ear. As the tumor grows, patients often experience problems with hearing, dizziness, and balance issues – similar to the worst ear infection you can imagine that can’t be treated with simple antibiotics. Fortunately, these tumors are rare and usually benign, although they have been known to kill if left untreated.
"The bigger it gets, the harder it is to treat," said Brandon Isaacson, Co-Director of UT Southwestern's Comprehensive Skull Base Surgery Program.
Traditionally, doctors opt to monitor the tumor and treat with radiation as necessary. If the tumor growth impacts health significantly, surgical removal is warranted. And for Ana Placencia, a 46-year-old mother of three diagnosed with a massive acoustic neuroma, she thought those were her only options.
But, using an endoscopic technique, a team of surgeons, led by Isaacson, were successful at removing Mrs. Placencia’s tumor with just small incisions in her ear canals. This was drastically different than what she had anticipated – Mrs. Placencia was able to bypass radiation and surgery that would have involved removal of large skull pieces around her ear.
The pilot procedure has not been documented anywhere else and has only been performed twice. While the patients were reported to be recovering well with less side effects than would be with traditional methods, the procedure is still considered to be experimental. The team hopes to perform more of these procedures in the future, and to compare the long-term benefits of endoscopy to traditional surgery.
But at least for now, Mrs. Placencia is quite happy with her minimally invasive treatment. "To me, anything that is less invasive is better," she said.
Of note, famous actor Mark Ruffalo was also diagnosed with acoustic neuroma. Watch the video to hear his story.
Additional sources: UT Southwestern