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CNN Today

Radiation Therapy can Increase Heart Surgery Success

Aired November 10, 2000 - 1:50 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When cardiologists from around the world gather this weekend in New Orleans, one of the new things they'll see is a device to deliver radiation directly to the heart.

As CNN medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland reports, it's something that could change the standard of care for thousands of heart patients.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the third time Raymond Smith (ph) is having balloon angioplasty to reopen a clogged artery in his heart. But this time, it's not business as usual. Doctors will deliver a dose of radiation directly into his heart to hopefully keep his arteries open for good.

DR. CHRISTOPHER CATES, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: We did the angioplasty and then try to go in and irradiate this stented area.

ROWLAND: A stent is a commonly-used, tiny, mesh device that props open an artery, but scar tissue forms and reblocks the artery in 20 percent of patients; it's called restenosis.

DR. JOHN DOUGLAS, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: And the radiation prevents that by actually killing the cells, so there's no cells there to replicate. Consequently, the restenosis process is interrupted.

ROWLAND: Tiny radioactive seeds are parked in the artery for about five minutes. That's enough to reduce renarrowing in the stent itself by about 66 percent and in the artery by about 36 percent.

Radiation may also help patients like Bob Culver, who was on the verge of a heart attack. Doctors offered him an experimental therapy: angioplasty followed by just radiation to the heart, without the stent.

BOB CULVER: They said on this study there's a great possibility that you wouldn't have to come back for another angioplasty.

ROWLAND (on camera): So far, he hasn't, and that was more than four years ago. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given approval to two radiation devices. Studies show they work equally as well and cost about the same: $2,000 to $3,000 per procedure. But each has advantages. (voice-over): One uses beta radiation that allows medical personnel to stay in the room with the patient. The other uses gamma radiation, a type that means doctors have to leave the room to avoid exposure.

DR. CHARLES BROWN, PIEDMONT HOSPITAL: The gamma -- it's going to have a little higher penetrance and it's probably going to be better or stronger for larger-caliber arteries, larger diameter vessels.

ROWLAND: Regardless of the type of radiation used, more heart patients can now avoid repeat procedures and visits to the hospital.

Rhonda Rowland, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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