Melting away tumors to save lives

May 7, 2010 4:17:04 AM PDT
It's a miracle that Patricia Duff is alive today.

When she walked into St. Clare's Hospital in Dover last December, doctors told her she had only days to live.

The 37-year-old was gasping for breath because a tumor had collapsed one of her lungs, even pushed her heart over in her body.

"I couldn't breathe. I was throwing up. I was having chest pain," Duff explained.

Dr. Timothy Chen is a radiation oncologist at St. Clare's who refused to give up.

"I grew up in Taiwan. I was told you never give up unless you try your best, so I told them 'let's give it our best shot,'" he said.

Patricia had a treatment called endo-bronchial high-dose rate brachytherapy. It's a very targeted radiation treatment using a catheter through the nose. The catheter then guides a radiation seed right to the site of the tumor so doctors can deliver short, yet precise amounts of high-dose radiation. In Patricia's case, the results were astonishing.

It literally melted away the tumor, Chen said.

A cat-scan of Patricia's lungs before the treatment shows her lung was all white and non-functional. A second cat-scan only a few days later shows lungs were clear.

"He's my angel and he saved my life. I love him and I adore him," Duff said.

Patricia is still having chemotherapy, and she needs surgery to clean up the area, but her doctor says her case should be an example of just how effective this treatment can be.

It's been around for years, but right now it's only done in a handful of hospitals for prostate, breast and other types of cancers. For Patricia, it was a lifesaver.

"The only thing that came to my mind was my son. I didn't want to die," Duff said.

A young woman who now hopes to live for years to come.