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Health Watch: Mobile MRI Lab Offers Free Scans To Battle Brain Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Despite amazing advances in cancer treatments, brain cancer remains a major killer.

Could early detection make a difference?

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports that the Brain Tumor Foundation believes it can and they're doing free brain scans to prove it.

It's being done with a mobile MRI unit in Brooklyn this week. Normally brain scans are expensive, but a collaboration between the foundation and real estate developer and philanthropist Bruce Ratner is allowing New Yorkers to be screened for tumors.

mobile mri
Mobile MRI lab sponsored by the Brain Tumor Foundation. (Credit: CBS2)

A brain tumor is what took the life of Sen. John McCain this year. It also claimed the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy, astronaut Deke Slayton, and former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

There will be 28,000 cases of malignant brain tumors this year, leading to more than 17,000 deaths.

Early detection of cancer with mammograms for breast cancer and PSA testing for prostate cancer have improved survival in those patients. The hope is that earlier detection of brain tumors could do the same.

"About 20 percent of brain tumors start as low grade cancers that are treatable before they become highly malignant and resistant to treatment," Dr. Philip Steig of New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell.

The neurosurgeon is also the head of the Brain Tumor Foundation and says brain scans are the route to early detection.

brain scan
File of a brain scan (Credit: CBS2)

"With early detection we can even perform surgery. When the tumor is small and we don't have to remove large areas of brain that would be disabling to the patient," Steig explained.

That's the goal of the foundation's mobile MRI scanner. Announced at a ceremony Tuesday, it's at Metrotech in Downtown Brooklyn this week. It's offering free brain scans that can detect not just tumors, but aneurysms and other brain abnormalities.

It's being underwritten by Ratner who has a personal reason for helping. His brother, Michael, died two years ago of a metastatic brain tumor.

"If we had early detection my brother would have survived much longer. This is what we desperately hope we can do for more people," Ratner said.

One of the first to sign up, George Corchia, also has a personal reason for coming.

"My father died of a brain tumor," Corchia said.

The scan takes just a few minutes and will be read by experts at New York Presbyterian-Columbia and Weill Cornell Medical Center.

To get your free brain scan you can either make an appointment or show up at Metrotech Plaza in Brooklyn through Friday.

The mobile unit is scheduled to be back in the Wall Street area towards the end of the year.

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