Entries in Brain Cancer (9)


Arizona Mom Stuns Doctors, Beats Deadliest Brain Cancer

Courtesy Barrow Neurological Institute(NEW YORK) -- Heather Knies was given a death sentence at the age of 24.  She battled not one, but two brain tumors -- one of them a grade 4 glioblastoma, the same kind of cancer that killed Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2010.

But today, six years later, she is cancer-free, and her doctors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona cannot explain it.  Her latest MRI is clean, and she is neurologically intact.

The now-32-year-old Knies has not only outlived her life expectancy, she has married and become a mother.  Her successful parenthood is remarkable, as intense radiation and chemotherapy can render cancer patients infertile.

Knies' daughter, Zoe, who is 7 months old, celebrated her first Christmas in December.

Knies' doctors say that in rare instances, a patient can break the "biological rules."  But most often in those cases, the initial pathology of the tumor was suspect.

In her case, the pathology was "not controversial," according to her surgeon, Dr. Robert Spetzler, director of the Barrow Neurological Institute at Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

In his 35 years as a neurosurgeon in the United States, Spetzler said he has never seen such a triumph against a stage 4 glioblastoma.

"It's one of the most malignant tumors there is," he said.  "Invariably it will come back and pop up somewhere else in the brain and it's uniformly fatal."

"It's not unheard of that that a few survive -- it's a bell curve and there are outliers," Spetzler said.  "But in her case, not only has she survived, but she is perfectly normal and there is absolutely no evidence of a tumor on her MRI scan."

Knies has a few of her own theories for why she is still alive today.

"One, being God had a plan for me," said Knies.  "I also had a great team of doctors and wonderful family and friends with a positive attitude."

"The mind is so much more powerful than anyone can imagine," she said.  "People believe that when they get cancer, it will kill them.  But I never once thought that."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Grace SungEun Lee: Terminally Ill Woman Who Fought for Right to Die Has Change of Heart

George Doyle/Thinkstock(MANHASSET, N.Y.) -- A terminally ill woman who battled her deeply religious parents in court over her right to die has had a change of heart.

Grace SungEun Lee, 28, who is battling brain cancer, signed a healthcare proxy Saturday designating her father, Rev. Manho Lee, as her primary health care decision maker, Lee's court appointed attorney, David Smith, told ABC station WABC-TV in New York.

Lee said she made the decision "to make peace with my God."

The reversal comes one day after the New York Court of Appeals ruled Lee's parents cannot override her wishes.

The former financial manager is paralyzed and hooked up to a feeding tube and ventilator at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

Rev. Manho Lee, who is a pastor in Flushing, N.Y., said he was concerned his daughter would go to hell if she allowed doctors to remove life support.

"When someone sets a date and time to die, that is suicide. And suicide is a sin," Lee said Friday at a news conference.

The family has long campaigned to keep the young woman on life support.

A Facebook page called "Save Grace SungEun Lee" has more than 500 supporters, who have been urged to write a letter to North Shore Hospital.

"Let them know no one should be influencing Grace's decision. Not the hospital, not the family. Only Grace has the right to think clearly about her life without any influence such as medicines," said a statement posted on the Facebook page.

In a video posted Thursday on Youtube, a man stroking Lee's head asks her if she will sign over the medical proxy to her father.

She appears to mouth, "Yes."

"When do you want to leave to a nursing home?" the man asks.

"Now," Lee appears to reply.

North Shore University Hospital is honoring Lee's request to not comment on her medical condition.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Making Brain Tumors Glow Saves Lives

Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center(NEW YORK) -- It all started with a headache.

Back in 2010, Kelsey Stewart thought the new head pain he had been feeling was a sinus infection. He saw a doctor, who prescribed him some anti-inflammatory medication that he hoped would take care of the problem.

But once he started vomiting uncontrollably -- one day, he recalls, he vomited 21 times -- he went to the hospital for further evaluation.

There, a CT scan of his head and further testing revealed the bleak truth: Stewart had brain cancer. And it was not just any kind, but a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). GBM is a very aggressive kind of cancer known for its grim prognosis.

"We were terrified," Stewart says. "Everything you read about GBMs is just death everywhere, death, death, death. My neuro-oncologist said she's never seen anyone survive this."

Doctors told him that, without surgery, he was not expected to live more than a year. But even with surgery, risks were high. Operations to remove brain tumors are complicated. They are located in the delicate brain tissues, and a tumor often appears remarkably similar to healthy tissue in the brain. This means that the line between diseased and healthy tissue is almost indistinguishable, leaving surgeons few clues on where to cut.

Fortunately, his brain surgeon had been working on an innovative solution to address this challenge.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol at Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center had developed a method to make cancerous tumors glow, using a special new microscope filter and small amounts of a glowing compound called fluorescein.

"We wanted to find a way using this new technology to increase the safety for the patient and at the same time maximizing tumor resection," he explains.

In the operating room, Cohen-Gadol infused a small amount of a fluorescein into Kelsey's bloodstream. Within the baseball-sized brain tumor, microscopic breaks in the blood vessels allowed tiny amounts of fluorescein to leak out into the cancerous tissues to light up under the microscope. Through the filter of his microscope, the tumor glowed fluorescent yellow – almost like white clothing appears under a black light.

Cohen-Gadol says that the glowing tumor was "like a roadmap," helping him identify tumor more easily and facilitating a more thorough removal.

Currently, many neurosurgeons are seeking similar ways to remove brain cancers more easily and thoroughly. One emerging area of research involves an experimental compound that makes brain tumors glow, called 5-Aminolevulinic Acid (ALA). Other surgeons in Japan have tried using fluorescein, but without the newly invented filter that Cohen-Gadol used, they had to use precariously high doses of the glowing compound until they could see an effect.

In the United States, fluorescein is the only drug already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and available to all hospitals -- not just the few enrolled in the ALA trials. Therefore, this compound can theoretically be used by any neurosurgeon schooled in the techniques of the microscope filter Cohen-Gadol used.

"There is no question that without the dye, it is very challenging to remove these tumors; you have to use imagination and adjunct strategies like mapping the brain." said Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a professor of neurosurgery and oncology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution who was not involved in Stewart's treatment. "Using these dyes makes it a step easier for the patient to optimize outcomes for the patients.

"If these tumors fluoresce with a small amount of fluorescein, this can be of tremendous benefit for us to be able to remove these tumors from the patient."

In fact, this technology can even be applied in other diseases in the brain. Cohen-Gadol says that fluorescein can also help in identifying brain aneurysms -- a condition in which there is an abnormal, dangerous ballooning of blood vessels. He says that when looking for aneurysms, the healthy vessels glow yellow-green while the aneurysm remains uncolored, which makes for "an amazingly beautiful picture."

Cohen-Gadol says he has used the fluorescein technique in more than 30 brain cancer patients already. In Stewart's case, Cohen-Gadol managed to remove 99 percent of the tumor using the technology. Other doctors tell him it's the cleanest removal they've ever seen. A few months later, he used the technique again to remove two smaller tumors in Stewart's brain.

And after he was given less than a year to live, Stewart is now going on three years of survival. For this, he is extraordinarily grateful.

"Dr. Cohen-Gadol being able to see more tumor and go after it was a big advantage for me," says Stewart. "Whatever new technology is out there to improve the chance of survival, you want to get as much as you can."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Brain Cancer Vaccine Raises Hopes for Survival Time

Comstock/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- Researchers have created a vaccine against the most common adult brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, and evidence suggests it may help to extend patients' lives.

Results from the new phase II clinical trial were presented Tuesday at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons meeting in Miami.  The researchers, led by University of California -- San Francisco neurosurgeon Andrew Parsa, MD, PhD, found that the new vaccine has been successful at extending the lives of patients with recurrent brain cancer after surgery by several months.  Six-month survival after treatment improved from 68 percent to 93 percent.

"These results are provocative.  They suggest that doctors may be able to extend survival even longer by combining the vaccine with other drugs that enhance this immune response," Parsa said in a UCSF news release.

With 17,000 new patients diagnosed with glioblastoma each year, and only 2 percent surviving longer than five years, Parsa says the cancer always returns -- it's just a matter of when.

In general, cancer vaccines represent a new technology, with the only one clinically approved being used in prostate cancer.  While not touted as a cure, these positive results have already put plans into motion to combine the new therapy with other chemotherapy agents, in phase III clinical trials planned to start later this year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Exercise May Predict Longer Survival in Brain Cancer Patients 

BananaStock/Thinkstock(DURHAM, N.C.) -- Approximately 18,000 Americans are diagnosed with a type of brain cancer, malignant glioma, each year and their prognosis is rather grim.  But a Duke University Medical Center study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reports that patients’ exercise behavior may be a useful predictor of survival.  

Specifically, the authors found that patients who reported walking for 30 minutes per day, five days per week survived for an average of about 22 months compared to 13 months for mostly sedentary patients.  But it’s not clear if exercise actually had an effect on survival, or if healthier patients were more likely to survive for a longer period of time, and exercise was simply a marker for general health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Brain Cancer: Ted Kennedy's Illness Strikes Billionaire

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street billionaire Ted Forstmann is fighting for his life -- reportedly against the same virulent form of brain cancer that felled Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2009 -- and has reportedly told friends that his treatment was delayed by a doctor's misdiagnosis.

A spokesman for Forstmann's sports marketing company IMG, says only that Forstmann has a serious illness.  But others, including Forstmann himself in an interview with The New York Times, call it brain cancer.

"Yes, it's brain cancer," someone familiar with Forstmann's condition told ABC News. "He was operated on to remove the tumor.  He's undergone radiation and chemotherapy. The first phase of his treatment has had positive results."

Nonetheless, the prognosis for people with this type of tumor remains bleak.  Kennedy died 15 months after his diagnosis.

About 9,000 people a year in the U.S. are diagnosed with Kennedy and Forstmann's type of cancer, a tumor called malignant glioma.  Among people aged 15 to 44, such tumors are the second most common cause of cancer-related death.

"Glioma is a generic term," says Dr. John Ohlfest, associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota.  "It refers to a class of brain tumors of different types, some very aggressive."

Patients with the least aggressive type can live 10 years.  Others like Kennedy, with the most aggressive type, called a glioblastoma, typically live no longer than 18 months.

Forstmann's chances for living even that long may have been compromised by his doctors' reported slowness to diagnose his condition correctly.  According to Fox Business News, Forstmann has complained to friends that his doctors misdiagnosed his cancer for a year, thinking it was various illnesses, including meningitis.

Asked if Forstmann would take any recourse against his doctors, his spokesman said, "Ted has more important things to worry about at this point."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FDA Approves Device for Brain Cancer Patients

Novocure(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a first of its kind device for treating a rare type of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). GBM is an aggressive cancer that comes back after receiving radiation therapy and chemotherapy. People with GBM usually only live for a few months.

The device, called the NovoTTF-100A, fights cancerous brain tumors using electrical energy fields. Those electric fields are used to hault the dispersing of cancer cells that allow tumors to grow.

The device is portable and, like a hat, surrounds the patient's head and feeds the signals to the brain through four electrodes. The device is charged by electrical outlet or can be used with batteries.

A 237 person clinical trial showed that although those using the device were as likely to die as those receiving chemotherapy, side effects such as nausea and fatigue were not as likely.

The NovoTTF-100A is not intended to be used in combination with other cancer treatment. The device should only be used after other treatments have failed.

The NovoTTF-100A System is made by Novocure of Portsmouth, N.H.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


No Link Between Cell Phones, Brain Tumors, Researchers Say

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MANCHESTER, England) -- Adding to the ongoing controversy about whether radio-frequency exposure from mobile phones increases risk for brain cancer, researchers at the University of Manchester say mobile phones do not increase risk for the disease.

Researchers in the study analyzed data from newly diagnosed cases of brain cancer between 1998 and 2007 when cell phone use was initially climbing.  Their analysis showed no significant change in the occurrence of brain cancer diagnosis in men or women.

The study, released in an advance online publication of the upcoming print issue of Bioelectromagnetics, revealed that while cancers of the brain's temporal lobe did increase slightly, cancers of the brain's parietal lobe, cerebrum and cerebellum in English men also fell slightly.

Lead researcher Frank de Vocht concluded that the possibility that there are people who are susceptible to radio-frequency exposure from cell phones -- or the possibility that there may be rare brain cancers associated with cell phone use -- should not be excluded.  But he added that the study does not indicate a "pressing need to implement public health measures to reduce radio-frequency exposure from mobile phones."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Coffee, Tea Consumption Could Lower Risk of Brain Cancer

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PROVIDENCE, R.I.) -- Regular consumption of coffee and tea may help lower the risk of developing brain cancer, new research shows.  As HealthDay News reports, the study finds that people who consume as little as a half cup of these beverages could lower their chances by as much as 34 percent.

Researchers tracked the dietary habits of more than 410,000 people between the ages of 25 and 70 for eight-and-a-half years.  By comparing drinking patterns against incidents of brain cancer, the research team found that drinking 0.4 cups or more of either beverage daily decreased their chances of developing brain cancer, especially glioma, a cancer of the central nervous system.

Previous research has already shown that coffee and tea may also help lower the chances of developing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

The notion that coffee and tea might accrue an anti-cancer health benefit to regular drinkers builds on previous research that has indicated that the beverages may also lower the risk for both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio