Brain cancer is one of the most horrible cancers. Its survival rate is currently one of the lowest out of all the cancers. But it seems like a certain company has developed a futuresque way to treat it – wearing electrodes on your head.
One of the Worst Cancers
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is one of the most common and most malignant of brain cancers. Sixty percent of diagnosed primary brain tumors are GBM.
After diagnosis, almost all GBM patients who decide to go untreated die within only three months. But GBM patients who go through conventional therapy, like chemotherapy and surgery, live for an average of only one year.
In comparison, most terminal cancer patients live for an average of about five years (including lung cancer patients) after diagnosis – but only 10 percent of GBM patients survive for up to five years after diagnosis.
A Fiction-like Treatment That Offers Hope but Makes Doctors Suspicious
Then comes the company Novocure with their controversial new invention called Optune. Like a light in the darkness of GBM, Novocure announces that Optune can double the lifespan of GBM patients. Their findings are backed by research that’s convinced the FDA to approve it as a treatment for GBM.
Optune is a device consisting of electrodes placed on the patient’s shaved scalp. The electrodes are connected by wires to a small generator within a handheld bag. The patient wears the electrodes for a minimum of 18 hours daily. The electrodes supposedly create alternating electromagnetic fields that interrupt mitosis (your cells’ way of multiplying) by disrupting chromosomes from duplicating. This effectively hinders cancer cells from multiplying since they’re the cells that undergo mitosis the most, whereas most of an adult’s brain cells don’t actively undergo mitosis. Physically, the immediate side effect is that the patient feels a warm sensation, but in the long term, the side effects can also include fatigue, weakness, and skin irritation.
Without any real discernible mechanism by which the device actually works to fight brain cancer, doctors and the FDA were understandably skeptical. One study in 2011 showed that Optune could lessen cancer symptoms after tumors stopped responding to standard treatment – the FDA allowed its usage for these situations. Then a 2014 study showed that patients recently diagnosed with GBM lived a few months longer, on average, with continued use of the Optune device. In response, the FDA expanded permitted usage of the device.
In another study, the Optune treatment lengthened 100 percent of the participating GBM patients’ lives by over a year – with one patient living for about three years.
Some very lucky GBM patients even went into complete remission because of the supplementary Optune treatment.
But the Optune Treatment Requires Outstanding Diligence
Even patients who are completely in remission of their GBM need to wear the device daily for the rest of their lives if they want to ensure they stay cancer-free. That can be very challenging – imagine having to shave your head everyday and wear electrodes on your head. Not only that, you need to keep the bag carrying the generator close by at all times – for your whole life.
Some GBM patients couldn’t handle the daily hassle and quit – despite it keeping them alive longer.
While Optune may significantly improve the quality of life for many GBM patients and lengthen their stay here on earth – it’s not a sure cure for the brain cancer (except for those lucky enough to go into full remission). Hopefully in the future, researchers will make more advancements that will lead to better and more permanent cancer cures.