Although brain cancer is less common than many other forms of cancer, it can be especially virulent because it tends to grow quickly before symptoms develop and is difficult to treat. Fortunately, the landscape of possible treatments is constantly changing and bringing the hope of more effective treatments and longer survival rates.
Low-Intensity Electrical Fields
Low-intensity electrical fields are not a completely new concept in the treatment of brain cancer. The treatment was originally approved for use in people with recurrent glioblastoma, but is now currently approved as one of several first-line treatments in people newly diagnosed with glioblastoma. One of the major benefits of treatment with low-intensity electrical fields is that it has a similar benefit to using chemotherapy, but has a lower side effect profile. Treatment is performed by placing electrodes on the scalp where the malignant tumor is growing. The electrical fields helps reduce or prevent malignant cells from communicating, thereby reducing their opportunity to grow. Although this type of treatment does not appear to be curative, it has increased the survival rate of people with glioblastoma and may slow the progression of tumors.
Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is a non-surgical treatment option which is used in many types of cancer and can be especially useful in brain cancer. SRS may also be used for cancer of other origins that have metastasized to the brain. A major advantage of SRS is that it can be used to minimize possible injury to surrounding tissues within the brain and spinal cord. For some people with brain cancer, the tumor may be too large to safely remove with surgery. Even small tumors may be located deep within the brain or near the spinal cord where the risk of irreversible damage is extremely high.
SRS uses targeted radiation in an attempt to only affect the tumor. In contrast to conventional radiation, SRS has less of an impact on healthy surrounding tissue. SRS may be referred to as CyberKnife, which slightly differs from Gamma Knife. Whether a neuro-oncologist offers their patients CyberKnife or Gamma Knife is contingent upon the devices available at their facility and any factors about the patient that make one better than the other. Targeted radiation treatment using Gamma Knife also allows a more precise treatment than conventional radiation therapy. The differences between CyberKnife and Gamma Knife are radiation dose, accuracy, fixation of the patient, and number of treatment sessions.
Another form of therapy used in lieu of traditional radiation is proton therapy. There are several advantages to proton therapy, especially when used in combination with other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy. Much like SRS, treatment is highly specific. The dosage can be adjusted based on the type of malignancy. Since different types of brain cancer may have historic patterns of their responsiveness to treatment, the ability to adjust the dosage in proton therapy can give patients the best opportunity to manage the tumor with fewer treatments.
Proton therapy can be used to "hone in" on the tumor, reducing adverse effects to surrounding tissues, especially when neighboring brain areas are language area, motor cortex, or responsible for involuntary functions. Although the availability of proton therapy has increased over the years, proton therapy centers are not widely available. Additionally, those capable of specifically treating brain cancer are even fewer. In general, proton therapy is more often used in low-grade malignancies, not glioblastomas, which are high-grade and the most common type of brain cancer in adults.
Brain cancers can be especially difficult to treat because they may cause severe neurological symptoms before they are diagnosed. Due to their location they are not always easy to remove or treat with chemotherapy, since some chemotherapy medications do not cross the blood-brain barrier, making options limited. With an increasing number of options available for various types of brain cancers, more people are living longer after diagnosis. Reach out to a local oncologist at a place like Sturdy Memorial Hospital to see what treatment options are available.