New Delhi: Dr P S Chandra, professor of neurosurgery at AIIMS, has successfully treated a 28-year-old pregnant woman, paralysed below the waist for several months due to a rare spine tumour, by pumping in a measured amount of ‘absolute alcohol’, a neuro-toxic drug, into the tumour to destroy the lump.
“MRI suggested that it was a spine tumour. Many people outside opined that it was a cancerous tumour and there’s no cure. She was brought to the neurosurgery department at AIIMS. We immediately recognised it as vertebral haemangioma,” Dr Chandra has been quoted by Mail Today as saying.
“This is a slow-growing vertebral tumour, which is not malignant. But the biggest challenge is surgery because it is extremely vascular (highly bloody) and if touched by a doctor during surgery it bleeds heavily,” he said.
Presently, experts are performing ‘intra-arterial embolization’, where they inject some glue into the tumour. This procedure done before the surgery takes around 4-6 hours, and costs about Rs 3-4 lakh, while absolute alcohol comes for only a few hundred rupees.
Absolute alcohol, or 99% ethanol, causes tumour destruction by drawing water out of the cells, thus dehydrating them, and thereby altering the structure of cellular proteins. Over a longer period of time, it leads to new bone formation, thus facilitating healing in the spine. In addition, it is a powerful embolization agent and cuts off the blood supply to the tumour.
“As the patient was in her advanced stage of pregnancy, we could not get her to lie upside down. So we put her in a lateral position. We opened the up tumour area, inserted two screws in the healthy vertebra above and below and covered the baby. Into the affected vertebra we inserted absolute alcohol,” said Dr Chandra.
Soon after the surgery, the patient, Shruti Jha, could feel relief in her legs and delivered a healthy baby in a couple of months. “Now I am able to walk and even workout at the gym,” she said.
Historically, ethanol was injected into angiomas (benign tumours) and carcinoma (cancerous tumours) of the kidney and worked very well as an embolization agent that killed the tumour cells very fast. However, it is not suitable for all kinds of tumours.