Brain Tumor Patients Benefit From Chemotherapy Pill

Armen Hareyan's picture
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After weeks of suffering with debilitating dizziness, vomiting and massive headaches, Holly Archer was diagnosed with an advanced malignant brain tumor that was doubling in size every few days.

During an operation in October 2004, doctors surgically removed a tumor the size of an orange from her right frontal lobe. Next, they treated Archer with chemotherapy and radiation for two months, then placed her on a high-dose regimen of oral chemotherapy for two years. For five days each month, Archer would swallow several chemotherapy pills at home.

"People have tried treating brain tumors using these kinds of chemo-radiation therapy combination treatments for decades. It's never once worked, until now, with this drug," says Dr. Herbert Newton, a brain tumor specialist who treated Archer.

"In the past, the usual survival for someone with this type of tumor is 12 months. Ms. Archer is out now more than three years from her initial diagnosis," says Newton, who is a professor of neurology and oncology and co-director of the Dardinger Neuro-Oncology Center at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

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Archer considers herself "very lucky" that her doctors decided to treat her with the oral chemotherapy drug temozolomide. The drug is used to treat certain cancerous brain tumors in adult patients, says Newton.

"I could take it on my time," says Archer, 34, of Blacklick, Ohio. "It could be morning, night or midday, whenever I felt it was most appropriate to take it. I often took it right before I went to bed, and that way I could hurry up and go to sleep and maybe sleep through any side effects I would have."

The drug interferes with cell growth, especially in cells that are growing rapidly, such as cancerous cells. In some cases, the drug has been shown to reduce the size of the tumor, says Newton whose research interests include malignant brain tumors.

"This is a very convenient way for patients to take chemotherapy because they don't have to come into the hospital; they can take it in their own home during their treatment days," says Newton.

In a 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors in Canada and Europe gave the drug to patients for six months after traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and more than doubled the 2-year survival rate. "So, we're trying to stretch the boundaries of what this initial study showed and see if it maybe is going to work better if we give people longer treatment," says Newton.

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