A SIMPLE AND QUICK WAY TO REMOVE TUMORS VIA SURGERY THROUGH THE NOSTRIL
A look at trans-sphenoidal surgery
The mention of the word “surgery” evokes images of lengthy and elaborate procedures that involve delicate acts of cutting, abrading or suturing different parts of the body to treat an injury or disease.
This widely-held perception has led some to develop an irrational fear of surgery–especially if an operation involves a critical organ, such as the heart, or in the case of trans-sphenoidal surgery, a procedure used to remove tumors from the hormone-regulating pituitary gland located at the base of the brain.
Though the procedure has been around in different forms for the past three decades, individuals who may be in dire need of it might fear or avoid it.
To demystify this specific method of surgery, J+ spoke with Julius July, a neurosurgeon at the Neuroscience Center of Siloam Hospitals Lippo Village Karawaci. He has performed hundreds of trans-sphenoidal operations on patients throughout the country since 2008. Below is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
Tell us more about trans-sphenoidal surgery.
The goal is to extract benign tumors of the pituitary gland that are called pituitary adenoma. The pituitary gland controls different secretions of hormones. If there is a tumor and it grows large, one of the consequences could be that a patient goes blind. It can also lead to symptoms manifesting in other parts of the body due to excess hormone production, depending on the type of hormone affected by the tumor.
What does a neurosurgeon do during the procedure?
As neurosurgeons we use an endoscope with a camera attached to it and insert the instrument through the nostril. We go through the right nostril and through the sinus to reach the tumor and remove it. Once that is done, we add a coagulant to prevent bleeding. The operation takes only an hour to 90 minutes to perform and is minimally invasive. People come in and expect the surgery to last five or six hours. They hear “surgery” and fearfully assume that. But modern trans-sphenoidal surgery is simple, only lasting one to two hours.
What’s the prognosis after surgery?
In 80 percent of cases, all it takes is one surgery to remove a tumor. However, some need repeated intervention, while others require radiation. Some tumors want to invade their surroundings. In these cases, the surrounding area is a blood vessel. We can’t totally remove that type of tumor. But such cases are rare. If a patient needs more than two operations, we usually recommend radiation, because who wants to have a lot of operations?
What are the symptoms of pituitary adenoma?
Symptoms depend on whether a tumor affects hormone production or the optic nerve. The principal complaints are related to a patient’s field of vision becoming narrower. If there is a tumor in the pituitary gland area, the eye can’t see too widely. The tumors would press on the optic nerve, which leads to the periphery of your vision getting blurry. If the tumor affects hormone production, the symptoms depend on the specific type of hormone that the tumor has affected. Different hormones have different roles. Excess prolactin hormones can lead to women–or even men–producing breast milk. If a woman who isn’t pregnant is producing breast milk, they need to be checked. The basic ingredient of milk is calcium. Without treatment, the woman will have porous bone problems. It also leads to reduced libido. If men have an excess of these prolactin hormones, they cannot get erections and will become impotent.
How does these problem develop in the first place?
Mutations lead to the creation of these benign tumors. Some things make mutations easier, such as smoking or exposure to radiation or specific chemicals. It could be anything. You could have eaten tofu and it had formalin or some meatballs with borax. Preventing it obviously requires a healthy lifestyle, but that’s easier said than done.
It’s not just one thing that causes these tumors.
Who does this pituitary tumor affect?
It affects both genders equally, more or less. The risk of pituitary adenoma compared to all other types of brain tumors is 15 percent. Children are also affected, though the condition is statistically much more likely to afflict adults. Of my patients, two in 70 would be children.
How is it diagnosed?
The doctor will check your hormones after a blood test and identify the problem. For example, if the condition affects growth hormones, a person can grow to two meters or more in height, which leads to gigantism. Alternatively, a condition could lead to horizontal growth–a bigger tongue, bigger fingers and changing shoes each month. The tongue can become so big that it causes breathing problems. Growth hormone overproduction is like a factory with the machine working overtime. As a result, a person’s life span can get cut in half. The heart works overtime, they keep growing and they die prematurely.
How many operations do you perform a year?
I’ve been doing these operations since 2008. I handle 60 to 70 such surgeries a year.
Any notable success stories to share?
One patient from Central Java came in blind. I examined him and said that there was no way we could save his vision by removing his tumor. He was crying. He had been blind for a week. But if no action was taken, the tumor would keep growing and would lead him to becoming crippled. At the end, he decided that he still wanted the operation. Surprisingly though, after the operation, he was able to see. Three months later, he was driving and reading newspapers. It was a fascinating case.
This article is part of a series sponsored by Siloam International Hospitals.
DR. JULIUS JULY Neurosurgeon at the Neuroscience Center of Siloam Hospitals Lippo Village Karawaci