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Cyberknife: Saving Sight without Cutting

Ocular melanoma is the most common form of eye cancer affecting five to six-million people every year. The slowly developing killer has a 50-percent chance of spreading to other organs like the liver.

With large tumors, the eye may need to be removed. But now, a bladeless treatment showing success with other cancers in the body is also saving sight.

86-year-old Stefano De Asarta is passionate about Roman history and at 76, he published his first book. But three years ago, the Italian scholar and his wife thought his writing career was over when he was diagnosed with ocular melanoma. Laure De Asarta, Stefano's wife explained, "He was very depressed and with no hope."

The biopsy to diagnose his cancer caused a hemorrhage in his eye, blinding him. Because of where the cancer was located, he was told his eye would have to be removed, "Which I didn't like" Stefano told Ivanhoe.

But Steve Carpenter, MD, Medical Director of CHI St. Luke's Health-Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in Houston, Texas was able to devise a new way to save Stefano's sight using a method he's successfully used on other types of cancers called Cyberknife.  Doctor Carpenter said, "It was the only way we could save the eye for this patient."

The image-guided robot doesn't cut anything. Instead, it uses high doses of radiation to precisely target tumors without harming healthy tissue. "It can provide what we call ablated radiation that can destroy tumors similar to surgical removal" Doctor Carpenter explained.

Stefano's tumor was treated in a single day and continues to shrink. Stefano told Ivanhoe, "Suddenly everything went away in a half hour of treatment in this magic room which is the Cyberknife."

With his vision restored, he focused on finishing his fourth book. Laure said, "It gave him back his life. It gave him back his life, really" and now he's "eyeing" a possible fifth.

Since Cyberknife is noninvasive, general anesthesia is not needed. Most treatments take no longer than an hour and patients are able to drive themselves home with zero recovery time.