Three Israeli patients were the first to participate in a study to achieve what has never before been possible: the eradication of inoperable cancer tumors. Researchers at Rambam Health Care Campus created a network-based radiation program using a targeted methodology that has succeeded to eradicate tumors in problematic and difficult to approach locations within the body.
For the first time in Israel, doctors in Rambam’s Radiation Unit in the Division of Oncology have developed an innovative method that—in the first three cases in which it was used—succeeded in completely eradicating tumors that were previously deemed inoperable. The method specifically targets sarcoma-type tumors.
How does the method work? Rambam researchers developed a unique radiation program, using a method called GRID, for its grid-like appearance. Using complex radiation intensity calculations and artificial intelligence to determine the route of radiation, the researchers were able to treat sarcoma tumors that have been difficult to treat to date. Sarcoma tumors are considered aggressive and resistant to radiation and chemotherapy treatment; they are considered to be inoperable if they are attached to vital organs, nerves, or blood vessels.
Yaakov Hayun, a resident of Yokneam Illit, is the first patient to benefit from this innovative treatment. In a conversation with the Israeli news website N12, he says that at first he felt a kind of muscle contraction behind his knee. “I did not attach importance to it. Until one day I woke up in the morning and my leg was very swollen. The doctors discovered a tumor that was wrapped around the bone and large blood vessels. It was in a really problematic location and could not be treated surgically. I began very difficult chemotherapy treatments, which were unable to reduce the tumor and it continued to grow.” According to Hayun, Rambam doctors offered him the innovative treatment. “At the end of the series of treatments, the tumor was reduced to a tenth of its size, could be operated on, and completely removed. Although the rehabilitation period following the surgery is long, I am getting better, and I’m happy that I no longer need chemotherapy.”
The doctors were surprised: The tumor had almost completely disappeared
“We were amazed by the results,” says Dr. Salem Billan, Director of Radiation Oncology and the Director of the Head and Neck Unit in the Division of Oncology. “In the first three patients, complete success was recorded and the tumors were completely removed. Yaakov came to us after the tumor had reached more than ten cm and could no longer walk. We convened a multidisciplinary team and began to carefully plan the screenings. After the treatment, the tumor was greatly reduced and could be operated on.”
“The second case involved a 24-year-old woman. She arrived with a ten-centimeter tumor that was attached to the arteries. The initial treatment offered was a complete amputation of her leg, above the knee. However, after completing the innovative radiation treatment, the tumor was reduced to just three millimeters,” said Dr. Billan. “Given the success of the first cases, we believe it will be possible to use this treatment not only for sarcoma, but also for large metastases in other types of cancer.”
Dr. Billan notes that “unfortunately, sarcoma tumors are usually radiation-resistant and so many times the surgery ends with the tumor margins being positive, meaning that there is a significant risk that the tumor will return. If the tumor grows in fat or muscle tissue, it is easier; the problem is when the tumor is attached to vital organs like the kidneys, intestines, large blood vessels, or a central nerve. In such a situation, these are aggressive tumors that are very difficult to treat, and the patients have a short life expectancy. The methodology we have developed makes it possible to perform radiation along a specified path using a carefully calculated dose, while preserving the vital organs.”
Dr. Myroslav Lutsyk, a senior physician in the Radiation Unit, says, “We were amazed to find that the tumor was gone – completely gone –no more tumor and no cancer cells remain from the tumor.” This was a total surprise, particularly since the new virtual GRID treatment required a high level of skill. Lutsyk explains, “We plan an uneven treatment for the tissue, and in practice, we give very high-intensity radiation at precise points that are scattered throughout the tumor, like a grid.”
The standard treatment for sarcoma tumors includes 25 radiation treatments, and each treatment lasts between three and five minutes. “With the new method, we add a unique treatment that is given once, before all other treatments. It is not painful and is quite similar to undergoing a CT,” says Dr. Lutsyk.
The chairman of the Israeli Sarcoma Association, Dr. Alona Zer, says that this is real news. “Soft tissue sarcomas are tumors that can appear anywhere in the body. These are rare tumors but there are 70 different types. They are usually very aggressive and prove to be a therapeutic challenge. The size and location make it difficult to remove the entire tumor surgically. This new methodology may improve patient prognoses and quality of life.”