At first 48-year-old Lutherville resident Rudy Lim didn’t worry much about the painless lump on his left thigh. But after the lump persisted for a few weeks, his wife suggested that he see his primary care physician, who referred him for an MRI. “When the MRI revealed that the mass might be cancerous, she referred me to Albert Aboulafia, MD, at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, who is one of the best oncologists for my issue,” Lim says. Dr. Aboulafia suspected it was a sarcoma.
Sarcomas are cancerous growths in the soft tissue (muscles, nerves, fat or other non-bony tissues) of the body that occur most commonly in the arms, legs or abdomen. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes them, but certain inherited conditions and exposure to chemicals or radiation treatment can increase risk. They occur more frequently in people over age 65, but can also occur in children and younger adults.
About 13,000 soft-tissue sarcomas and 3,000 bone sarcomas are found in the United States each year. Because these tumors are relatively rare, there aren’t many specialists trained to treat them. Dr. Aboulafia states, “We used to treat both bone and soft-tissue sarcomas with amputation, but with modern techniques, and when patients are treated from the start at a specialized center, more than 90% of them can be treated without amputation using limbsparing surgery.”
“After looking at my MRI, Dr. Aboulafia asked if he could do the biopsy right then in his office,” Lim recalls. “I was a bit apprehensive, but pleasantly surprised when I didn’t feel any pain. He told me it likely was a malignant (cancerous) soft-tissue tumor, but that he would send it to the pathologist immediately.”
When the pathology report confirmed Dr. Aboulafia’s initial diagnosis of a high-grade myxofibrosarcoma, a relatively common type of sarcoma, he immediately referred Lim for additional imaging studies to determine if the cancer had spread. Fortunately, it had not.
To shrink the tumor, Lim, a risk consultant for an insurance company and the father of two boys aged 10 and 16, underwent five weeks of radiation therapy followed by surgery to remove the tumor. “Dr. Aboulafia told me that my margins were clean, meaning they were able to get all of the cancerous tissue and a bit extra,” explains Lim. He was then scheduled for several months of chemotherapy to prevent the cancer from spreading to the lungs.
Expedited Care From a Team of Experts
“There are a limited number of centers nationwide that deal with these tumors, and ours is one of them,” says Dr. Aboulafia. “Many patients mistakenly assume their masses are benign, while others assume they’re malignant and go through unnecessary tests. To make sure each patient gets the right testing and treatment, we offer expedited, interdisciplinary care with a team of experts that includes radiation therapists, radiologists, medical oncologists, orthopaedic oncologists, pathologists, and support staff, so that patients can get the information they need right away.”
Lim received his diagnosis the same day, thanks to the Center’s emphasis on fast, coordinated care. “I often walk over and get the biopsy results myself,” notes Dr. Aboulafia. “Our expectation is to drop what we’re doing and take care of the patient. And our nurse navigator’s attitude also is, ‘yes, we’ll make that happen.’”
“I’ve been practicing orthopaedic oncology for 25 years,” adds Dr. Aboulafia. “It’s all I do.” That’s good news for patients, as studies have repeatedly shown that high-volume surgeons and centers have better outcomes.
“Dr. Aboulafia is like an uncle to me—he always smiles and always gives me hope,” Lim exclaims. “He’s a great patient advocate and champions the best care for his patients. He explains everything in layman’s terms and never rushes you, and I never felt in danger, which was amazing. Every step of the way, he’s been a godsend to me.”
The Center also allows patients with sarcomas to participate in cutting-edge clinical research trials for patients and to receive the most advanced surgical procedures.
This article appeared in our Discover newsletter. Read more articles from our spring edition.
About the National Center for Bone and Soft Tissue Tumors
The latest addition to the MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center campus is the National Center for Bone and Soft Tissue Tumors. The Center offers patients cutting-edge care, including CyberKnife® and other advanced radiation therapy approaches, chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, percutaneous cementation, surgery, and the ability to participate in the latest clinical research trials. The team treats all types of bone and soft-tissue tumors, including those resulting from metastatic disease (cancers that spread to other parts of the body).