NY Daily News – July 22, 2014
by Meredith Engel
As a New York City firefighter, Blaise DelBianco was used to daily tests of his strength. But his biggest challenge came once he hung up his hat for good. Now-retired DelBianco, 61, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. It was metastatic — meaning it had spread — though was not terminal. But the tumors that developed on his spine as a result of his diagnosis have kept him in agony every single day.
He tried physical therapy and radiation therapy, but a revolutionary new procedure available at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, Long Island, is ultimately what is rebuilding his quality of life.
“Just to have some alleviation is really beneficial for me,” DelBianco told The News before his surgery.
His procedure is called STAR, and it stands for Spinal Tumor Ablation using Radiofrequency. Doctors insert a needle into the spine, use heat to kill the painful tumor and fill the void with bone cement. It is not used to treat the primary source of cancer, but it kills secondary spinal tumors that can develop after a cancer diagnosis, thus easing patient pain. The localized, minimally invasive procedure is performed under general anesthesia while a patient lies down in a CT scan machine. It takes about 45 minutes and the needle stick is so small that a single Band-Aid can cover it. The best part: Patients begin to feel the effects shortly after surgery.
The procedure, which doesn’t interfere with an oncologist’s primary cancer treatments, received FDA approval and began commercially in September. It’s available in about 100 hospitals across the U.S.
And its effects are dramatic: A new study in Pain Physician Journal that looked at 128 patients receiving STAR found that their average pain started at 7.51 out of 10 pre-surgery and decreased to 1.73 one week later.
DelBianco had his procedure on July 10 and was feeling good as of Friday.
“I feel a vast improvement since he worked the area,” DelBianco said.
DelBianco’s surgeon, Dr. Mohammed Bilal, said the procedure is an offshoot of another bone support surgery he used to perform. He likes this one because “it allows you to enter the bone with one needle, (which is) always ideal, (and it’s) less invasive, it’s a short procedure and the patients often get immediate results, within hours even.”
DelBianco will see Bilal again this week to evaluate whether the pain he’s having in his tailbone will be another area he’ll have the procedure.
Though the former firefighter — who used to play ice hockey and perform in a band — isn’t as active as he used to be because of his illness, he said it’s difficult to leave his desire to help others behind.
“I want to tough it out — that’s the firefighter mentality,” he said.
But he’s now being charitable in a different way: by sharing his story.
“If it helps someone else to improve the quality of life, that’s really what it’s about.”