Medical Moment: Glioblastoma & treatment

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 8:35 PM EST
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About 13,000 Americans will be diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer this year, and 10,000 people will die.

Now, doctors are testing a tumor treating helmet-like device in pediatric patients that’s designed to stop cancer cells from dividing and taking hold again.

Ivan Galeano was with his mother when the normally healthy teen felt his left pinky go numb.

“And then from there it started spreading to the hand and into the arm,” Ivan says.

“I thought at first this is like a heart attack,” says Vicmarie Del Valle, Ivan’s mother. “He thought it was a heart attack. So, he started screaming.”

Ivan was rushed to a nearby hospital. Doctors determined it wasn’t a heart attack. It was a seizure. Then, an MRI found something else.

“It was like a shadow on the right side of my brain,” Ivan said.

Doctors diagnosed Ivan with glioblastoma, or GBM, aggressive brain cancer.

“Now we’re facing this monster and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get rid of it,” Vicmarie says.

But GBM treatment is tricky.

“There’s always tumor cells left behind with glioblastoma,” says Derek Hanson, section chief of Pediatric Neuro-oncology at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “And that’s what makes it particularly challenging is that even when we remove the entire tumor, we know it’s still not all out.”

That’s why Dr. Hanson wanted to try a treatment that is showing promise in adults, but not yet approved for use in kids. A special device called Optune, worn on the head, with four leads attached to the scalp.

“And these four leads send electric signals called tumor treating fields into the brain directed at the tumor,” Hanson says.

Patients don’t feel the signals, which disrupt the cancer cell growth. They wear the two-pound cap for 18 hours a day, even while they sleep.

“I’ll just deal with whatever I have to do,” Ivan says.

So far, the experimental treatment is working!

“So, they have been no recurrence since Ivan had surgery,” Vicmarie says.

Researchers are evaluating the Optune device, along with chemotherapy for pediatric treatment. The researchers are in discussions to expand the trial to a phase two, which would involve additional children’s hospitals.

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