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Allegheny Health Network Neurosurgeons First in Region to Provide New Treatment for Painful Spinal Tumors

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

PITTSBURGH – When cancer cells spread to bones, they most commonly do so in the bones of the spine. Surgeons at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) have become the first in the region to treat metastatic spinal tumors using an innovative, minimally-invasive technology known as the OsteoCool™ RF Ablation System from Medtronic. 

Metastatic bone disease occurs in 60 to 80 percent of cancer patients, most frequently among patients with primary malignancies of the breast, prostate, liver, and lung, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Spinal tumors can cause debilitating pain, fracture, mechanical instability and neurological dysfunction – all of which impede upon a patient’s daily activities and can significantly challenge their overall quality of life,” said AHN neurosurgeon Nestor Tomycz, MD.  

Spine metastases have traditionally been treated with radiation therapy or via complex, open-spine surgery in which the cancer cells are resected from the bones. According to Dr. Tomycz, radiation can cause damage to the normal tissue surrounding the bone, and traditional surgery is often more than what a patient with cancer can tolerate. Further, both radiation and surgery can interrupt a patient’s treatment for his/her primary cancer such as chemotherapy.

Dr. Tomycz is the first neurosurgeon in the region to utilize OsteoCool in the treatment of patients with spine metastases. Using internally-cooled bipolar probes, he delivers heat energy precisely to the tumor through small incisions in the patient’s back. The temperature-controlled system prevents overheating and damage to the surrounding tissue, while creating a “kill zone” within the bone to destroy any cancerous cells.

For patients who commonly suffer a spinal fracture as a result of the spinal tumor, Dr. Tomycz uses OsteoCool in combination with a procedure known as kyphoplasty in which cement is used to stabilize the bone. Both minimally invasive, patients are often able to go home the day after their surgery.

“Never before have we been able to treat both the bone cancer and fracture at the same time. Now, with one procedure, patients realize almost immediate pain relief and are able to quickly get back to their treatment plans for overcoming their primary cancer,” said Dr. Tomycz. 

The AHN Neuroscience Institute is an international leader in the field of minimally-invasive neurosurgery with physicians who are among the most elite and experienced in the country. To learn more, visit