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Sharp Health News

Attacking cancerous tumors of the mouth

March 15, 2016

Ivann's story

Ivann Gatbonton with his doctor, oncologist Dr. Phillip Zentner, at Sharp Chula Vista's Barnhart Cancer Center.

"Cancer is scary, but I have to be strong for my family."

Ivann Gatbonton moved to San Diego three years ago and shortly after arriving, he received news no one ever wants to hear: "You have stage 4 buccal mucosa, an aggressive oral cancer." The cancer of the cheek and mouth lining is more common in men and is linked to the use of tobacco products.

With his wife of more than 20 years and his 11-year-old son in mind, Ivann immediately began the process of fighting back. His journey led him to Dr. Phillip Zentner, medical director of radiation oncology at Sharp Chula Vista's Barnhart Cancer Center.

Oral cancer treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach. For Ivann's care, two doctors came together from different backgrounds — oncology and dentistry — to create a unique treatment plan. This included a special stent used during high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy to provide an even stronger, more accurate dose of radiation. HDR brachytherapy is a treatment that quickly and precisely delivers radiation, which provides for shorter treatment sessions; appointments usually last only 15 minutes.

"Ivann's tumor had an excellent response to the first stage of radiation treatment, but we knew a second stage would be necessary in order to control the disease long-term," says Dr. Zentner. "This second stage required a very localized treatment plan with a higher dose of radiation. Because of the tumor's close proximity to healthy organs, we decided to create a customized stent that would assist us in treating the tumor precisely while sparing healthy organs nearby."

This stent was created by Dr. Harold Gulbransen, a dentist affiliated with San Diego Prosthodontics. The specialized device included catheters, which held a high-dose wire for the radiation, and worked with strategic computer programming that mapped out a plan specific for Ivann's tumor. Not only did this stent deliver a maximum dose of radiation each time, but it minimized exposure to nearby healthy tissue as well by keeping the tongue clear of the treatment area. With this stent, Dr. Zentner treated the tumor with incredible accuracy and the same dose of radiation each time.

"The beauty of making this stent is that it is customized directly to Ivann's mouth, which ensures we are consistently treating the tumor in the same spot each time," says Dr. Zentner. "Ivann has had a great response to treatment and he's doing very well."

Now that treatment is over, Ivann and his wife, Ana, plan to spend some much-needed time with their son, Angel.

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