KINGSPORT – The recurring blockage in his coronary arteries that sidelined Vice President Dick Cheney earlier this year affects thousands of Americans annually.
A breakthrough treatment now available at Holston Valley Medical Center, however, helps prevent the narrowing of coronary arteries after angioplasty or stent insertion. Cardiologist Thomas Bulle, MD, and radiation oncologist Ernest Helms, MD, performed the first such procedure in Northeast Tennessee Monday.
Intravascular brachytherapy involves the use of intracoronary radiation to prevent restenosis – or re-narrowing of the coronary arteries. Studies have shown radiation treatment discourages the growth of scar tissue that often occurs as part of the natural healing process following angioplasty or stent placement.
As many as 50 percent of patients who undergo standard balloon angioplasty experience re-narrowing of their arteries in the months following the procedure. Even though the use of stents has significantly lowered this risk, up to 25 percent of patients who have stents inserted still experience re-narrowing.
Patients with restenosis often require additional angioplasty procedures or even coronary bypass surgery to treat the blockage.
“This procedure is a breakthrough in the treatment of restenosis,” said Dr. Bulle, an interventional cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates. “It is the only therapy proven to decrease the likelihood of recurrent blockages in this setting.”
During the procedure, which is performed in the cardiac catheterization laboratory by an interventional cardiologist and radiation oncologist, a small dose of beta radiation is delivered through a catheter to the site of the blockage. After two to five minutes of treatment, both the catheter and the radiation source are removed.
Radiation oncologist Byron May, MD, said numerous clinical studies have shown radiation treatment interferes with the growth of scar tissue and helps keep treated arteries open.
“More than 5,000 patients have been enrolled in approximately 40 intravascular brachytherapy protocols around the nation,” Dr. May said. “Multiple medical studies have been completed, and they confirm that radiation effectively minimizes the risk of coronary restenosis.”