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Cornell University Doctors Use New Radiation Chip to Combat Cancer

By Brendan Doyle

Cornell Daily Sun, Cornell University

Doctors at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City recently discovered a breakthrough in treating cancer of the head and neck. Using Cesium-131, a newly released radiation chip, the doctors have been able to prevent the recurrence of buccal mucosa cancer in a 66-year-old male patient, inferring a new strategy of treating particularly aggressive cancers.

“I think it’s a very promising radiation source,” radiation oncology Dr. Bhupesh Parashar said. Along with Dr. David Kutler MD ’96, an otolaryngologist, and Dr. Jason Spector ’91, a plastic surgeon, Parashar helped treat the patient who received the Cs-131 treatment. The three doctors comprise a team that deals with head-neck cancer treatment at WCMC. As the radiologist of the group, it was Parashar who chose Cs-131 as the appropriate treatment for the patient’s case.

What makes Cs-131 so special, according to Parashar, is “its short half-life and high-dose rate, which is appropriate for treatment of aggressive cancers.”

The seed has a half life of 9.7 days, meaning that it kills cells than dies relatively quickly in the body. Radioactive seeds such as Cs-131 can cause issues such as hair loss and hyperthyroidism in addition to killing the cancer, which is why a short half-life is desirable. The previous seed used, Iodine-125, had a half-life of about 60 days.

“They are a lot easier to implant and a lot easier to tolerate,” Kutler said about the seeds.

Buccal mucosa cancer occurs inside the cheek, and the patient had been getting treated for several years. The man had a portion of his lip and cheek removed, as well as undergoing radiation treatment. However, there was still a recurrence of the cancer, in addition to a lymph node under his chin. The Cs-131 was used to combat the lymph node. Thus far, the patient has been doing well, with no recurrence of tumors or complications.

The seed is produced by IsoRay, Inc., a medical company based in Richland, Washington. The use of radiation seed being placed next to an area requiring treatment is called brachytherapy, and has been common in the treatment of prostate cancer. However, the use of small radiation devices is generally rare in dealing with cancer in the head and neck because of the complicated physiology of the area.

Though it is still early in the process, the doctors are optimistic about the role Cs-131 may play in the future of cancer studies and patient care.

“It’s a very good advancement in adding radiation,” Parashar said. “It’s … effective in cancer control.”

Click here to read the original story in the Cornell Daily Sun.