Lighting up brain tumors to help patients live longer

Sixty-nine thousand people will be told they have a brain tumor this year.

For people with the most aggressive forms, they're expected to live less than five years after receiving the diagnosis.

One major problem for surgeons is not being able to get the entire tumor out.

But now, doctors are able to light up the tumor and see them better than ever before.

With her dog Emma and her husband Jim by her side, even the most deadly form of a brain tumor, called a glioblastoma, couldn't slow her down.

"I just made up my mind that i was going to go forward and not backward, you know, and make the best of it," says Judy Morrill, a brain tumor patient.

She had one surgery to remove most of the tumor,

But with this type of cancer, the cells can spread like fingers throughout the brain.

"We can never get all the tumor cells out," explained Cleveland Clinic neurological surgeon Michal Vogelbaum.

Now surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic are using a drug used to treat skin cancer, called 5-ALA, to literally light up cancer cells in the brain.

"It is converted primarily by tumor cells into that substance that glows," said Vogelbaum.

Judy had a second surgery using 5-ALA, and doctors removed more of her tumor. Judy is now 70 and looking forward to what this new decade will bring.

"I'm so lucky to be alive, last year, I didn't think I would be here for my birthday and now i'm having one this year.”

Although 50-ALA is approved to treat brain tumors in Europe, and bladder cancer in the U.S., the Cleveland Clinic is one of the few hospitals in the country involved in a clinical trial using it.


REPORT: MB# 3655

BACKGROUND: A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in your brain. Brain tumors can begin in your brain or cancer can begin in other parts of your body and spread to your brain. However, not all brain tumors are cancerous, but tumor treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor you have, as well as its size and location. (SOURCE:

SYMPTOMS: The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary greatly and depend on the brain tumor's size, location and rate of growth. General signs and symptoms caused by brain tumors may include:

* New onset or change in pattern of headaches
* Vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision
* Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or a leg
* Hearing problems

LATEST TECHNOLOGY: Neurosurgeons report that they harnessed the power of fluorescent light to illuminate a brain tumor so the entire growth could be removed. A report describes a case in which a patient with glioblastoma swallowed a pill, called 5-ALA, and was taken to surgery about four hours later. The medication attached itself to tumor cells, causing them to glow brightly. Once the skull was opened, the doctors focused a blue light on the tumor, which gave the cancerous cells a pink glow, so the surgeons could differentiate malignant tissue from healthy tissue. (SOURCE:

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Andrea Pacetti
Media Relations Manager
The Cleveland Clinic

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