Custom Radiation Shield Helps Pregnant Cancer Patient

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Playing Woman Battles Brain Cancer While Pregnant

Pamela, 39, says she started experiencing severe headaches during her pregnancy with her fourth child. At first, she says she thought the migraines were related to the pregnancy, but when she started to notice other neurological symptoms, such as forgetting her birth date, she knew something was truly wrong. An MRI confirmed that a large glioblastoma was pushing against her brain, and she was rushed into surgery at 22 weeks pregnant.

Glioblastomas are the most common and aggressive brain tumors, accounting for 17 percent of all primary brain tumors. They often grow rapidly and can spread quickly to new sites. Symptoms can include persistent headaches, nausea, vomiting, weakness on one side of the body, memory and speech difficulties, progressive neurological deficits, and seizures. Oncologist Dr. Lawrence Piro explains that Pamela’s pregnancy-related hormones could have accelerated the tumor’s growth.

Two weeks after her craniotomy, Pamela was told she had just three to 13 months to live. Not content to give up without a fight, Pamela turned to neuro-oncologist Dr. Andrew Lassman, who worked with a team of specialists to design a custom treatment plan for Pamela that would allow her to fight her cancer while limiting the risks of harm to her unborn child.

Dr. Lassman explains that his team developed a custom radiation shield, built specifically for Pamela, which would protect the fetus and uterus while Pamela underwent radiation therapy. He says that while radiation technology has advanced enough for them to aim the treatment relatively well, there still would be a risk of scatter radiation, so the shield was developed to limit the amount of radiation that potentially could reach the fetus. Dr. Lassman says he and his team felt confident they had balanced the risks and benefits of performing the treatment.

At 35 ½ weeks into her pregnancy, Pamela’s son, Timmy, was born at a healthy six pounds. She is still undergoing treatment to fight her cancer, but says she is incredibly grateful to Dr. Lassman and his team.