There are more than a hundred different varieties of cancer, and many of them can present themselves in wildly inconsistent ways, at inconsistent times, seemingly at random. A friend who survived cancer once told me that it was kind of like having a genetic car accident. Cancer can often strike anyone, at any time regardless of previous family history or health habits, and sadly many types of cancer currently have little to no treatments or cures. While I hesitate to classify diseases and disorders, as if one way of losing loved ones is less horrible than another, I must say cancer reaches a special level of horrible that is hard to match.
And for some reason, cancer just seems even more terrible to witness when it happens to children and young adults, who should be living and growing up, not fighting for their lives in a hospital. One of the more common varieties of cancer that affect children is osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone that is primarily found in kids and young adults. When tumors are found in the bone there really are no easy ways to deal with it other than performing a procedure called an en bloc resection, or the surgical removal of the cancerous tumor and the surrounding tissue. Once the cancer is removed, a prosthetic bone implant is used to repair the bone, and encourage the regrowth of cancer-free bone tissue.
The process of repairing the damaged bone involves using a medical modular bone prosthetic that can be assembled to match the damaged bone relatively quickly. However sometimes the removed tumor is larger than average and the resulting damage is too much for the traditionally used prostheses, and in the past this would often require the limb to be removed entirely. But recently researchers have found success in using CT data to reconstruct the damaged bone and 3D print a custom titanium implant.
Recently, Italy’s National Institute of Rome Tumori Regina Elena, the country’s top cancer surgical center, became the first hospital in the nation to use customized titanium implants to repair bones damaged by bone cancer. The prosthetic implants were 3D printed in titanium using an Arcam electron beam melting (EBM) process with Sicily-based 3D printing services provider Mt. Ortho. Another Italian company, Lima Corporate, will also be 3D printing bone prosthetics for future cases.
While bone tumors are relatively rare, they are not unheard of and currently Italy diagnoses approximately 6,000 cases of bone sarcoma and soft tissue cancers each year. Sadly, most of those patients are younger children, teens and young adults under the age of twenty, though bone cancers can affect people of any age, and the hospital has bone sarcoma patients into their eighties. Currently, of those new bone cancer cases discovered each year, about 5% of them are ideal cases for the 3D printed titanium implants.
This month, Regina Elena used the 3D printed titanium implants on three patients: a young patient’s buttock, a thirty-five-year-old woman’s shoulder blade and a thirteen-year-old boy who needed the tarsus bone in his foot replaced. The procedures were so successful that the hospital plans to expand the use of 3D printed prosthetics further, and they already have three new patients lined up. 3D printed bone implants can be made to repair the entire bone, which will lower the risk of infection and speed up recovery time. In the case of osteosarcoma, these 3D printed implants could save thousands of children’s lives, and ultimately help us down the long road that will one day hopefully eliminate the risks of cancer completely. Discuss in the 3D Printed Titanium Implants in Italy forum over at 3DPB.com.