Zapping Away Spinal Tumors for Good

Zapping Away Spinal Tumors for Good

A new way to zap away spinal tumors has patients feeling pain free.

Two-thirds of cancer patients will have their disease spread to their bones. The spine is the most common site and it can mean severe pain as tumors grow and press on nerves. Now, there’s a new way to heat up and zap away the cancer.

A simple walk is a victory for Michaelene D’Ambrosio. Six months ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. 

“70% of my breast tissue was tumor,” Michaelene told Ivanhoe.
That tumor had spread to her spine, causing severe pain.
“I couldn’t bend. I couldn’t reach. I couldn’t walk. The pain was just constant,” Michaelene said.
“It was heartbreaking,” Ashley Johnson, Michaelene’s granddaughter, told Ivanhoe.
Then Michaelene found Dr. Rakesh Donthineni who treats spinal tumors with STAR ablation.
“The goal is truly to kill the tumor,” Rakesh Donthineni, MD, Cancer Specialist for Spine and Extremities, told Ivanhoe.
First, he inserts a needle into the spine. Next, he ablates the tumor with heat that reaches 100 degrees or more. Then, he fills in the hole with cement. The ablation doesn’t carry the same side effects as traditional chemo or radiation, and 95 percent of patients report pain relief.
“You’re reducing the size of the tumors. You’re reducing the effects on improving the quality of life, and that’s the goal in these patients,” Dr. Donthineni told Ivanhoe.
“I have been pain-free since the surgery,” Michaelene said.
Now, pain doesn’t get in the way of spending precious time with her granddaughter Ashley.
The doctor says he can ablate multiple tumors at the same time. Patients may experience some back pain and there’s always a risk that the tumors can grow back. The procedure typically takes 45 minutes from start to finish.

BACKGROUND: A spinal tumor can affect the nerves surrounding the tumor and may lead to neurological problems such as paralysis. Spinal tumors may cause permanent disability even if the tumor is benign. Once the tumors grow, they can affect bones of the spine, nerve roots, blood vessels, and spinal cord cells. Leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma are all types of tumors that can occur in the spine. (Source: and
CAUSES: In most cases, it is unclear why spinal tumors are formed. Some doctors will say that genetics is a big underlying factor. For example, there have been cases where spinal tumors have been linked to inherited syndromes like von Hippel-Lindau disease and neurofibromatosis type 2. Spinal tumors affect the vertebrae, which are made up of small bones that are stacked on top of one another, protect the nerve root and spinal cord. The spinal cord is a long column of nerve fibers that carry messages to the brain. These parts of the spine are the most likely to be affected by spinal tumors. (Source:
SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of a spinal tumor vary depending on the location and type of the tumor. Typically, symptoms include:
• Back pain, often radiating to other parts of your body
• Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
• Difficulty walking, sometimes leading to falls
• Paralysis that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of your body, depending on which nerves are compressed. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A radiofrequency (RF) ablation procedure performed with the STAR™ Tumor Ablation System is a dramatic step forward in the palliative treatment of metastatic spinal tumors. Accessing the tumor may only require local anesthesia with conscious sedation and a small incision. As with most surgical procedures, serious adverse events can occur.  Risks can include: pain, infection, hematoma, hemorrhage, and nerve injury leading to radiculopathy, paresis, or paralysis, damage to surrounding tissue through iatrogenic injury, hemothorax or pneumothorax, unintended puncture wounds, and pulmonary embolism. (Source:
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