PATIENTS don’t automatically have to undergo surgery to remove a tumor, defined as an abnormal overgrowth of cells in any part of the body. Instead, it can be addressed by a multidisciplinary approach, according to Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) specialists at a webinar on brain and spine tumor management in February.

“We suggest the multidisciplinary approach to brain and spine tumors because its objective is comprehensive care,” said Dr. Theodor S. Vesagas, clinical director of CSMC’s brain and spine tumor center and the Philippine Gamma Knife Center (PGKC).

Philippine Statistics Authority data showed cancer as the 4th leading cause of death in the country, making up 7.8% of total deaths from January to November 2021.

Not all tumors are cancerous, however, and death is certainly preventable. Whether benign or malignant, tumors can be treated in many ways outside of operative surgery, each method having their own advantages and limitations based on the patient’s case.

Dr. Vesagas presented gamma knife radiosurgery (the use of a precise dose of radiation to create lesions in tumor tissue), chemotherapy (the use of powerful chemicals to kill tumor cells), radiotherapy (the use of high-energy rays to kill tumor cells), and immunotherapy (the use of parts of a person’s immune system to fight the tumor).

“With many doctors seeing to the patient’s condition, the management of a tumor will require assessment of the particular case and regular follow-up, but it increases the likelihood of receiving consistent and timely care,” he said.

When it comes to brain and spinal cord tumors in particular, both of which are classified as central nervous system (CNS) tumors, there are peculiarities to be wary of, according to Dr. Gilbert J. Ranoa, training officer for CSMC’s spine fellowship program.

“CNS tumors can compress the brain and spinal cord and produce stroke-like symptoms because of compression,” he said.

This means they can cause multiple symptoms that may interfere with the patient’s life, from headaches and blurry vision to balance problems, seizures, and even paralysis. Though individually they don’t indicate tumors, a combination of these problems might.

He stressed the importance of going to the doctor and trusting them and the rest of the multidisciplinary team: “It’s a must to identify the exact name and nature of the tumor. That is the start of the management and treatment of the tumor.”

For Rodel Perez, a 45-year-old overseas Filipino worker in Dubai who was diagnosed with a brain tumor during the pandemic, it was initially very scary to go to a doctor for dizziness and what seemed to be vertigo only to find out he had a brain tumor.

“I consulted with a neurosurgeon, who confirmed the 2x3x5 tumor in my head. It was the size of a lemon,” he shared at the webinar.

He went for surgery at CSMC, still quite fearful but somehow appeased after e-consults with his doctor.

In October 2020, the procedure went smoothly with no hiccups, and he was back in Dubai eight months later, after being cleared to work.

“Being diagnosed early helped, rather than finding out late in life,” said Mr. Perez.

Dr. Ma. Luisa Abesamis-Tiambeng, chairman of the CSMC cancer center, added that Filipinos can be fearful due to misinformation online, like tumors being genetic (false), caused by stress (false), transmissible (false), or related to vaccines (also false).

“Your medical team spent 20 or more years studying and training in order to gain expertise in managing your disease. Google is giving you information gathered with one click of your finger. Trust your medical team,” she said. — Brontë H. Lacsamana