Cancer can affect any part of the body, but one of the most debilitating forms of cancer affects the brain. Every year in the United States alone, 80 000 new cases of brain tumors are reported and about 25 000 of these cases are the more aggressive type of cancer. One of the more fatal brain cancers is caused by cells called glioblastomas or GBMs.
In a new breakthrough, scientists have now developed a landmark treatment for GBM brain cancer. It comes in a form of a cap that emits electrical fields called tumor-treating fields. This cap, called Optune, has been shown to prolong the lifespan of brain tumor patients and decrease the amount of patients who die prematurely from brain tumor. It works by emitting a sequence low frequency electrical energy in order to stop the growth of GBM cancer cells. The alternating low frequencies of electricity are believed to prevent the cancer cells from dividing and multiplying at a rapid rate.
The results of the initial trials for Optune were presented in March 2017 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research. The study involved two groups of patients , one of whom were given only chemotherapy drugs while the other group was asked to use Optune in addition to the chemotherapy drugs. The results were very significant as patients who were also given Optune as a treatment showed a much higher chance of surviving than patients who were only given chemotherapy.
Optune, which looks like a swimming cap, can be worn throughout the day while patients perform their daily activities. Patients who want to avoid curious stares from strangers can wear a hat of a wig over Optune, hiding it from plain sight and allowing themselves a measure of privacy.
Dr. Roger Stupp at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, Chicago leads the research team that’s working on Optune. He expressed his hope that the cap can provide an entirely new way of fighting GBM cells. He mentioned that Optune is able to enhance the traditional method of treatment which includes radiation, followed by 6-12 months of chemotherapy with drugs.
The combination of Optune and chemotherapy drugs is a new concept and is still gaining ground amongst medical practitioners, some of whom still consider this cap ‘weird’. The science behind it however, is relatively simple. Many years of research has shown that cancer cells react negatively to certain electrical frequencies that disrupt their ability to reproduce, as well as their ability to function. These electrical frequencies, however, don’t affect healthy cells at all.
The only downside of this treatment would be its high cost. Right now, patients will have to fork out USD700 a day in order to use this method. Another negative factor would be the side effects, which although minimal, includes blood count issues, weakness, fatigue and electrodes irritating the patient’s skin.
Optune may not be an ultimate cure for GBM brain cancer, but it does extend the lifespan of patients by several months. It might not sound like much, but to the patients and their families, a few extra months mean the world to them.
The battle to treat cancer continues, and there is still hope that new methods or treatment combinations will be discovered to formally eradicate the disease. As for the team behind Optune, they are continuing to perfect their invention and fine tune it to fit the requirements of patients and their doctors. In the future, the technology behind Optune may be perfected to not just treat brain cancer, but cancers in other parts of the body as well.
Gentle reminder: The information on this article is not meant to replace a qualified healthcare professional and should not be considered as professional advise. Please seek appropriate medical help when necessary.