Early adoption: Holy Name doctor explains how medical center is eager to implement latest noninvasive tech for liver cancer and beyond

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Less is more today in cancer care. …

And Holy Name‘s Dr. George Miller has more to say about that: After years of relying on a sometimes heavy-hitting trifecta of radiation, drugs and surgeries, he notes that there’s a theme of oncologists looking for less (and even less) invasive approaches that can prove equally beneficial to patients.

That trend is the backdrop for the latest cancer care innovation coming to Holy Name, where Miller serves as division chief of surgical oncology and medical director of oncologic surgery. The Teaneck institution plans to add an ultrasound-based therapeutic technology that is less invasive than already minimally invasive alternatives.

This fall, Holy Name could become New Jersey’s only cancer center with a focused ultrasound device for the treatment of certain tumorous growths.

“With it, we’ll be able to kill liver tumors — hopefully, eventually, kidney tumors if that’s approved (by the FDA) later this year — using just an external ultrasound machine,” Miller said. “We’ve treated liver tumors in particular with surgery and by burning them with the heat of microwave radio-frequency waves, but that still involves putting a needle in them. Now, we won’t have to make an incision at all.”

Ahead of the technology’s acquisition, Miller couldn’t speak in specifics about the ultrasound device. But, in short, it’s a novel approach for a surgical oncologist such as Miller, who has expertise in liver, pancreas and other gastrointestinal-related malignancies.

High-intensity ultrasound, based on the same technology used in standard imaging tests, has been investigated for its potential applications in cancer treatment for many years. Ultrasound beams aimed at tumors apparently leave patients with few adverse effects.

“It also potentially expands indications,” Miller said. “In other words, there’s certain types of tumors we wouldn’t operate on. It’s not that we can’t potentially help patients, but there’s certain risks of surgeries, and that varies from person to person based on how frail they are. But, this changes those indications because it’s a noninvasive procedure.”

Given that using ultrasound energy to attack liver tumors has seen approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the technology might be expected to be widespread already — but, it isn’t.

As for why that is, Miller’s experience tells him there’s a comfort level with the existing tools used for treating liver tumors. In general, there’s a lot of overlap between this new approach and those familiar options.

“So (cancer care teams) are sometimes comfortable with what they’re doing now,” he said. “There’s always a cost-benefit analysis … and always risk when you’re bringing new technology on and paying substantially for the cost of a machine.”

Miller is less concerned about that with this machinery. He suspects the technology Holy Name is investing in will soon be a standard practice for cancer centers treating liver tumors — as well as any of the other tumors, such as in the kidney or pancreas, it’s under evaluation for.

“I do predict very wide adoption of this, but there’s certainly advantages to being an early adopter,” he said. “Right now, it’s very new. There are 15 institutions around the country that have this. I think it’s going to be a mandate in the future.”

In the meantime, as happens with other cutting-edge technologies in cancer care, particularly minimally invasive alternatives to more involved surgical procedures, in-the-know patients might be inclined to flock to the only facility in the state that offers this ultrasound treatment.

In fact, that’s something Holy Name’s oncology leaders are counting on.

“I heard from a colleague in a neighboring state, in upstate New York, that they got 100 patients in one month who were looking for this, learning about it from Facebook pages dedicated to this,” Miller said. “Many patients will seek it out. Many won’t be candidates for it. But, nevertheless, that would bring patients into our cancer center and the sphere of our oncology program.

“So, I think it will grow the entire program. And the amount of patients we expect to seek this out is one of the reasons we’re an early adopter.”


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