Patients suffering from metastatic cancer, or cancer that has spread from the primary cancer location, face special challenges. Usually, treatments are given by mouth or injection so they can travel throughout the body. These include chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Other common treatments may include biological therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or a combination of these.
When cancer spreads to the spinal column the results can be excruciating. As such, treating these tumors has been a challenge. More importantly, how can the pain be relieved. Palliative care, which includes therapies aimed at controlling pain rather than curing the disease, targets pain. In the past, pain management has been conservative – involving painkillers or radiation. Researchers have recently focused on spinal column tumors as a high-priority problem. After many years of hard work, researchers have developed a pain controlling treatment option called STAR.
What Is STAR?
STAR stands for Spinal Tumor Ablation using Radiofrequency. STAR treatments are minimally invasive and offer palliative pain relief from spinal tumors. During a STAR treatment, the patient lies on his or her stomach. A small puncture is made in the back, allowing the STAR treatment device to enter the large portion of the particular vertebrae that is afflicted with the spinal tumor.
The STAR treatment device controls the temperature of the tumor within the vertebrae. By increasing the temperature of the tumor the STAR treatment device can effectively eradicate the tumor cells. Additionally, STAR monitors the temperature of the surrounding tissues so they are not injured.The STAR treatment device is then removed from the vertebrae, and a simple dressing covers the small puncture wound.
How Can It Help Me?
According to recent reports, 30–40 percent of cancer patients “will present with complaints related to metastatic spinal tumors.” If you are one of these patients, STAR treatment might be able to help you.
In particular, STAR therapy is best suited for patients who have tumors that are resistant to radiotherapy, that are located in the posterior vertebral body, and that are metastatic. Metastatic means that they have spread from one part of the body to another. If you suffer from recurrent pain after radiation treatments and have reached your maximum radiation dosage limit but are still suffering from spinal tumors, have localized pain, or have other symptoms that prevent radiation, or if other systemic treatments prevent you from getting palliative radiation, then you might be a good candidate for STAR treatments.
What Do I Do Now?
First, ask your oncologist about whether STAR treatment is right for your particular type of cancer. There are many factors to consider when deciding on the right course of palliative care. You and your doctor should discuss the many factors surrounding your tumors. These include tumor placement and size, type of cancer, and to what degree you can expect treatments to help you. Don’t forget to consider potential side effects and complications from various forms of treatment.
If your doctor recommends STAR treatments, the next step is to find a physician near you who is trained in performing STAR. This procedure is a relatively new and innovative treatment process. As such, it is important to find a trained physician who can thoroughly discuss your options for and expectations of STAR treatments.