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 Brain and Spine 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 surgeon 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 Brain and Spine 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, leaving patients sickened and debilitated.
Radiosurgery, which comprises both the Gamma Knife and the CyberKnife, is a technique that uses high-dose radiation targeting precise locations in an attempt to minimize damage to surrounding, healthy cells. Lipani feels that radiosurgery often offers a better path to good health and quality of life than other options.
“It is able to control 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 99 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 sit down on the 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-shot deal, sometimes they go up to five consecutive days, and that’s it. People have brain tumors treated on lunch hour, then play a round of golf. People come in who can’t walk, and they end up getting off the table and walking out of the hospital.”
Interestingly, Lipani says at this point his patients are largely self referred.
“I get patients who do their homework,” he said. “They see my website, they 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. It’s very rare to find people who are trained in both. 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 business depends on great outcomes,” he said. “If my patients don’t do well, my business 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 treat metastatic disease.”
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 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, who invented CyberKnife, and Dr. Dave Lunsford, who was the first to use CyberKnife’s technological predecessor, Gamma Knife, in the U.S.
Lipani knows it’s not going to be easy to compete against the hospital system, but he is confident that he can offer his patients superior care to what they will receive elsewhere.
“We only opened about a year ago. It’s going to take some time to establish a presence and a reputation,” he said. “That’s how the Mayo Clinic started: one patient at a time.”
Princeton Neurological Surgery, P.C., 3836 Quakerbridge Road Suite 203 in Hamilton, is online at princetonneurologicalsurgery.com. The Brain and Spine Radiosurgery Institute is online at radiosurgeryinstitute.com. Phone: (609) 890-3400.