A chance discovery, and a decision to wait


In 2005 13-year-old Monica Datta joined several other young people in undergoing MRIs as part of a research study at Stanford University. Unlike everyone else, Datta’s unexpectedly revealed a spot in her brain that nobody had known about.

Though she had no symptoms, an appointment was quickly made with Paul Fisher, MD, professor of neurology at the Stanford School of Medicine, and director of the Brain and Behavior Center at Stanford University and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

“We told her it could be a tumor, or it could be nothing,” Fisher said. “It’s very typical with this type of finding to watch and wait. Sometimes MRIs reflect changes which are, in fact, normal brain tissue.”

As difficult as that can be to an anxious patient — or anxious parent — that’s what Datta and her family did. Over the years the lesion showed no signs of changing, and her MRI scans happened less and less frequently. The high school freshman became a senior, then a college student at UC-San Diego. Whatever had turned up initially ceased to be a concern.

At 22, Datta underwent one last MRI. Expecting more good news, she was shocked by the phone call she received the next day. After nearly a decade without changing, her lesion had apparently grown into a low-grade glioma, according to neurosurgeon Gerald Grant, MD. She would need brain surgery.

A month after that last MRI, Datta came in for the procedure. Four hours later, it was done. Grant, associate professor of neurosurgery at the School of Medicine, told her it was a success. The entirety of the tumor had been removed. The following months of recovery were grueling, but by early 2014 she had emerged triumphant.

“Looking back, it was bold and brave for the family to hear that there’s something there, but to choose not to intervene. It was the right decision,” Fisher said. “Oncology is built on the phrase ‘early detection saves lives.’ But there are times when you don’t want to rush in. I think Monica and her parents are really admirable for how they handled this.”

The UC-San Diego graduate will be taking the GRE this summer, and plans to pursue a master’s in genetic counseling.

“It was such an emotional experience,” Datta said. “But I feel really lucky to have gotten my care at Stanford.”


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