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Six-year-old girl walks again after pioneering cancer operation

21 July 2010

A SIX-YEAR-OLD schoolgirl has become the first in Britain to undergo pioneering new cancer surgery at the Harley Street Clinic.

For the first time, doctors have been able to carry out a high-tech procedure - to remove bone containing a large tumour, treat it with radiotherapy and then put the cancer-free bone back in the body - all under one roof.

Until now, medics have had to send bone tumours by motorbike to another hospital to be zapped with high-doses of radiation before the bone was put back into the patient's body.

Russian schoolgirl Darya Egorova became the first to benefit from the £70,000 procedure last month.

Last night her mother Irina, 41, an associate professor of Physical Education and Sport at Tula State University said the treatment was a ‘miracle'.

In Russia, the family had been told the only options for Darya, who loves sport and dancing, were either a leg amputation or to keep her leg but leave the joint completely immobile.

Mrs Egorova said: "Given the surgical options my daughter was offered outside the UK, what surgeons have done is truly a miracle. 

"We came here full of fear but over the last three months we received such kindness and generosity from the British people. We are eternally grateful." 

Rob Pollock, consultant orthopaedic oncologist who carried out the operation, said this new approach is of huge benefit to patients because it cuts the operation time by at least an hour, reducing the risk of infection and complications.

"This is the first time we have been able to do this operation under one roof which is a huge benefit to the patient," he said.

"Until now, the cancerous bone has been sent to a hospital half an hour away to be treated while the patient remains on the operating table. However, that is not ideal because it adds at least an hour to the surgery.

"A shorter operation means less anaesthetic, less risk of complications and infections, less soft tissue damage and less pain and bleeding, all of which are better for patients.

"In an ideal world, all these types of operations would be carried out this way."

Darya, who was diagnosed with cancer last autumn, was able to have the groundbreaking three-hour operation after being funded by the Russian cancer charity Grant Life.

Bone cancer - when it is a primary cancer rather than cancer that has spread from another part of the body - is rare with around 450 new cases a year in Britain.

Although it can affect people of all ages, it is most common in teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 and causes pain and swelling.

Treatment of the disease is complex and gruelling but two thirds of patients survive.

Darya was initially treated with very high doses of chemotherapy to kill the tumour and any cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.

Then eight centimetres of bone - including a five centimetre tumour - was removed from the shin bone of her right lower leg.

In some patients, a piece of tailor-made metal can be fitted where the bone has been removed.

However, this was not possible for Darya because the tumour was so close to her ankle that doctors could not secure it in place.

Mr Pollock said: "There was only one centimetre of bone left above the ankle so there was no way of getting a piece of metal to cement to that piece of bone.

"The only option was to take the tumour and surrounding bone out, put it in a sterile drape and then a Tupperware box and send it to the radiotherapy department down the corridor.

"The bone was treated outside the body so we could use very high doses of radiation to kill the tumour."

After half an hour, the bone containing the dead tumour was returned to the operating theatre.

It was then pinned back into Darya's leg and because it was her own bone it was a perfect fit.

Two days after the groundbreaking operation, Darya was trying to walk again with the help of crutches and was in hospital for just a week.

Over the next two years, healthy bone will gradually grow through the dead bone, bringing it back to life.


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