When Dr. John Lipani decided to open a solo neurosurgery practice in 2012, he knew he was taking on the medical establishment.
But the founding director of Princeton Neurological Surgery, P.C. and JD Lipani Radiosurgery Institute says the challenge of striking out on his own is outweighed by the potential benefits he feels he can, perhaps uniquely, provide for his patients.
Lipani is a neurosurgeon with extensive experience in traditional brain and spinal surgery. But he is also a passionate advocate for radiosurgery, a noninvasive “knifeless” process of treating brain and spine tumors that Lipani feels is underutilized in medicine today.
“I started the JD Lipani Radiosurgery Institute because my realization was that the clinical expertise with regard to delivering noninvasive brain and spine surgery is lacking in this world,” he said.
When a patient has cancer that has spread to the brain or spine, physicians often recommend one of two courses of action: radiate it, or operate on it. Operations are inherently risky procedures that entail extended recovery periods, while radiation therapy as it is usually practiced is harmful to both healthy and affected tissue, and has the potential to leave patients sickened and debilitated.
Radiosurgery, which comprises both Gamma Knife and CyberKnife, is a technique that uses high-dose radiation targeting precise locations in an attempt to minimize damage to surrounding, healthy cells. Lipani says that radiosurgery often offers a better path to good health and quality of life than other cancer treatment options; especially for tumors that affect the brain and spine.
“It is able to stop tumor growth more effectively, with more safety, than traditional radiation techniques. But because of the lack of clinical expertise, often the old traditional ways of managing metastatic disease are pursued in many cancer centers, to my frustration,” Lipani said.
Lipani says he has approximately a 98 percent success rate when it comes to treating metastatic tumors of the brain and spine. Using radiosurgery, he says, he can stop the growth of tumors while maintaining patients’ neurological functions.
“Patients lie down on the treatment table, listen to their favorite music,” he said, describing a typical radiosurgery session. “Nothing touches them. A robotic arm circles their body; they don’t feel anything. Sometimes it’s a one-time treatment session, other times patients go up to five consecutive days, and that’s it. People can literally have brain tumors treated on their lunch hour, then play a round of golf. I’ve treated patients with spinal tumors who arrive unable to walk, and after 1 or 2 treatments, I watch them walk out of the hospital.”
Interestingly, Lipani says at this point his patients are largely self-referred.
“Most of my patients do their homework,” he said. “They go to my website, read about Gamma Knife and CyberKnife and TrueBeam (another radiosurgery technology), they see we’ve got all the treatment tools.”
Perhaps crucially, Lipani says that while he recommends radiosurgery when it’s indicated, he also has extensive surgical experience and can bring those skills to bear when necessary.
“I have no interest in ‘selling’ one over the other,” he said. “I just have an interest in doing what’s best for the patient. Most patients are unaware of the noninvasive treatment options when it comes to brain and spine tumors. I’ve made an effort to position myself so there’s no bias with regard to what technology I use to treat my patients, or with regard to whether to treat invasively or noninvasively.”
And Lipani says the results speak for themselves — in fact, he says, they must.
“I work for the patient. My practice depends on great outcomes,” he said. “If my patients don’t do well, my practice doesn’t do well.”
Lipani, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience in addition to his medical degree, said he’s always been interested in neuroscience — and physics.
“I never really understood how to combine medicine with physics until I discovered radiosurgery,” he said. “Radiosurgery essentially is using the power of physics to selectively treat tumors virtually anywhere in the body.”
Board certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgeons, Lipani is a fellow of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He received his training in neurosurgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, NYU Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia of the University of Pennsylvania, or CHOP as it is often known. Lipani also headed the first Neurosurgical Oncology program at Capital Health, and founded Capital Health’s CyberKnife Radiosurgery program of the Penn Cancer Network when the hospital was part of that organization.
Currently an adjunct clinical assistant professor of neurosurgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Jefferson Medical College, he has also trained with two of the most noted physicians in the field of radiosurgery in America: Dr. John Adler at Stanford University, who invented CyberKnife, and Dr. L Dade Lunsford at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery, who was the first to use CyberKnife’s technological predecessor, Gamma Knife, in the U.S.
Lipani knows it’s difficult to compete with the big cancer institutes, but he is confident that he can offer his patients cutting edge treatment options that are often not available elsewhere.
“We only opened about two and a half years ago and we just recently opened our third office. Currently we are located in Hamilton, Bridgewater and most recently, Toms River, NJ.”
Princeton Neurological Surgery, P.C., 3836 Quakerbridge Road Suite 203, Hamilton. princetonneurologicalsurgery.com. The JD Lipani Radiosurgery Institute: radiosurgeryinstitute.com. 609-890-3400.