Only a tiny percentage of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials, research that is the single most important component of medical research. Brain tumor patients have a lot of factors to evaluate when considering joining a clinical trial. Here are four perspectives from the Brains for the Cure video library.
Wish it was easier to stay current with all the news in the brain tumor community? Welcome to the first edition of our weekly collection of news, links, and articles curated especially for patients and caregivers. Have an article you’d like us to include? Please let us know here.
Duke Chronicle, Feb 18, 2019
Researchers at the Bellamkonda Lab at Duke University have created a device that “tricks” brain tumors into moving to areas of the brain that are more accessible to surgeons. Known as a “Tumor Monorail,” the device has been fast-tracked by the FDA and the team expects the device to be approved for human trials by the end of 2019.
Forbes, Feb 20, 2019
Doctors could soon use an exact 3D replica of their patient’s head to increase accuracy in radiotherapy treatments. A company based in Athens, Greece and San Antonio, Texas uses a CT scan to create a Personalized “PseudoPatient” that replicates the patient’s bone structure and external surface. Radiation treatments can then be tested and measured on the PseudoPatient before being performed on real patients.
Valley Roadrunner, Feb 21, 2019
Healthcare expenses contribute to over 60% of US Bankruptcy filings and even private insurance is far from a reliable solution. Charles Caratti discusses the problems facing patients in American today, and some potential solutions.
Genetic Literacy Project, February 19, 2019
Patients with a recurrence of glioblastoma who were given a drug known as a checkpoint inhibitor before surgery lived nearly twice as long as patients in a control group. According to researchers at UCLA, this study marks the first time that immunotherapy has been proven to be beneficial to glioblastoma patients.
News24, February 17, 2019
A British man diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2013 has completed his bucket list by visiting 18 countries and marrying his girlfriend of 25 years. Richard Preston is one of the 20% of patients to survive longer than 5 years, and now preparing festivities for his 50th birthday.
Brain tumor patients face rarely get access to effective new treatments for their disease. While surgical techniques have advanced and many promising treatment approaches make their way through clinical trials, the fact is that development of effective new treatments for brain tumors has been slower than for other common cancers. Yet one seemingly surprising source of hope for patients and neuro-oncologists is not a drug or a surgical technique at all, but rather a piece of electromagnetic headgear called Novocure Optune that the FDA has approved to slow tumor growth.
As patients and caregivers move through clinics and meet others in the brain cancer community, they are likely to encounter patients who have a set of nodes on their heads with wires leading off to a device at their waist. Some might guess this an alternative or unproven treatment employed by the desperate, but in fact the Optune device is increasingly seen as one of the most useful weapons mainstream neuro-oncologists have in their arsenal today.
So just what is this thing, and how does it work?
Dr. Eilon Kirson, chief scientist with the device’s manufacturer Novocure, explains that the device prevents cell division in an area of the by moving a steady current of electricity across it. Patients wear electrical nodes on the head as they go about their daily life. All the while, the device creates low-intensity, painless fields of electricity between the nodes. These fields work in two ways to keep cells (both tumor and non-tumor) from dividing. Since a tumor consists of uncontrolled cell division, this process interrupts tumor growth.
Unlike cells in other parts of the body, healthy brain cells don’t need to divide – they largely develop in the womb and remain through life. For this reason, the brain is an ideal environment for Optune’s tumor treating fields to be used against cancer.
“The survival benefit is very clear. 20 years ago, a negligible number made it to five-year survival. Today 13% make it to 5 years with temozolomide plus Optune,” Kirson said.
Today only four treatments are approved by the FDA for glioblastoma (GBM): surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and Optune. Optune is the newest of these, winning approval for recurrent GBM in 2011 and newly diagnosed GBM in 2015. Clinical trials are underway for other types of brain tumor.
Yet despite its newness, a series of successful studies has in short order led to Optune being considered a frontline treatment for GBM.
“If you come into your doctor’s office and get the bad news from your doctor that you have glioblastoma, ideally your options would have Optune up there with surgery, radiation, TMZ (temozolomide). If I were a patient, I would expect my doctor to explain this to me: these are my four best options for being the 1 in 7 who lives beyond five years. I really think anyone who’s up to date on literature, who follows developments neuro-oncology would know about Optune,” Dr. Kirson said.
Living with Optune
Patients who use Optune do learn that the device is expected to become a part of their daily life. The treatment requires that they use the device as continuously as possible. They are expected to go about their business with the nodes attached and the device powered on – while eating, sleeping, etc. Nodes are conspicuous although they can be safely worn with a hat or other head covering. The rest of the device, which once required a large backpack to carry now weighs just over two pounds and fits in a pouch – nevertheless it is something patients must commit to bringing everywhere with them. Nodes remain on the head all the time, for several days at a time before being changed.
On the other hand, side effects are mild compared to radiation or chemotherapy, consisting mainly of skin irritation at the site of the nodes and headaches. According to Dr. Kirson, many patients found find there is empowerment in using the device – since they manage it at home themselves, wearing it helps them feel that they’re doing all they can to maintain their quality of life in the face of diagnosis.
“If you want to fight for survival and take that extra step to live longer, you should be adding Optune. That’s the main message the physician should be saying,” Dr. Kirson said.