LINCOLN, Neb. – Around /3 people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lives. While survival rates are on the rise, chemotherapy and radiation can have lasting side effects.
Now, doctors at CHI Health St. Elizabeth are using a new technique that could minimize a major side effect for brain and lung cancer patients.
The treatment is called hippocampal sparing. and while the technology used in the treatment isn’t new, the way of using it is.
By using a 3D map of the brain, doctors can skip over the part of the brain associated with memories.
Since November, Darla has been fighting for her life.
“They told me I had small cell lung cancer,” Darla said. “It’s incurable and inoperable because it’s too close to the heart.”
She underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“Darla has a type of cancer that has a propensity of spreading to the brain,” said Dr. Kevin Yiee, who treated Darla. “So what we can do is prevent cancer spreading to the brain with a treatment called whole brain radiation. The problem is that after brain radiation, people usually have memory problems.”
Darla says her family was worried about her memory.
“My daughter was worried I’d forget my kids or something like that, but Dr. Yiee assured her I wouldn’t,” she said.
That’s because Dr. Yiee is one of the first doctors in Lincoln to offer hippocampal sparing during radiation.
“The hippocampus is where memories are formed, and with the radiation, now we can bend the beams so they avoid that area,” Dr. Yiee said.
Patients like Darla lie perfectly still in a machine so the doctors don’t accidentally hit the blocked off area.
Darla was the first patient to use the new technique in Lincoln.
“I knew the doctor had just gotten back from a seminar, so I figured I’d be the first one,” Darla said. “He didn’t tell me until afterwards, but I knew and he knew I knew.”
Thanks to this treatment, Dr. Yiee says Darla’s chance of suffering memory loss have dropped 25%.
“These are really great people,” Darla said. “Really great people. They didn’t treat me like just another patient. They really took time with me and took into account my feelings, and that made it so much less worrisome.”
Some great news: Darla says she is on the path to remission. Her children say they’re relieved she’s the same person before and after treatment. They say cancer couldn’t take their mom, or her memories, away.