A look at Hawaii’s cancer treatment, research as senator recovers from kidney surgery

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono says she’s doing well after having a kidney removed.

On Tuesday, the senator announced she had been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer and that it had spread to one of her ribs.

She underwent surgery Wednesday, and her staffers later told us she was working from her hospital bed.

Next up for Hirono, an outpatient procedure called CyberKnife to remove a lesion on her rib.

“CyberKnife radio surgery is a machine that can deliver a high dose of radiation to a small area,” explained Dr. Gene Liu, a radiation oncologist at Queens Medical Center. “Because it happens to be typically given to small tumors, you can get away with delivering a very high dose, which allows you a very high probability, of eradicating all the tumor in that small area.”

Liu says the same procedure is available in Hawaii, but under a different name. “CyberKnife is the brand name of the machine that some facilities use. We use another name brand machine to deliver the same procedure of radio surgery,” he said.

Dr. Joe W. Ramos, a researcher with the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, explained the cancer research that’s being done here in Hawaii.

“The most recent approach are these amino therapies. So basically cancers in general, cancers have a way of blocking the immune system so that your own body can’t really attack it,” he said. “Now we have come up with ways to prevent the cancer, in this case the kidney cancer, from being able to do that with these new compounds. So now your own immune system can help the body to get rid of the cancer.”

Researchers are working on two approaches at the cancer center, working with chemists from all over the country.

“Hawaii has a number of species that only exist here, and so because of that, we have chemists who go out and look for compounds in nature here that are likely not found elsewhere in the world, and we then screen those compounds against a number of different cancers,” Ramos explained.

Hirono thanked everyone for the well wishes. We’ll let you know when she has her next outpatient procedure.

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