Senator John McCain has been recently diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an aggressive form of Brain Cancer. Glioblastoma arises from star-shaped cells in the brain called Astrocytes. The tumor is highly malignant because of its ability to invade and destroy normal brain tissue. There are 12,000 new cases of Glioblastomy annually in the United States.
The senator underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his left frontal lobe, and microscopic analysis confirmed the presence of glioblastoma. Surgery was done through a minimally invasive approach with an incision along the eyebrow. This type of cancer also affected Senator Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden, son of former vice president Joe Biden.
Senator McCain had felt tired over the last few months and had intermittent double vision. MRI scan of his brain revealed the hemorrhagic tumor. The symptoms of Glioblastoma are usually a result of increased pressure in the brain. These symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting and lethargy. Other symptoms can include weakness on one side of the body, memory and speech difficulties, and visual changes.
Treatment of Glioblastoma consists of surgical resection followed by chemotherapy and radiation. The goal of surgery is to maximize tumor resection while minimizing damage to functional and healthy brain tissue. Advanced tools such as image-guidance and tumor fluorescence are used intra-operatively to achieve surgical goals.
The main concern with Glioblastoma is recurrence. No matter how thorough the surgical resection, these tumor typically come back within 6-12 months. The average prognosis for Glioblastoma survival is 14 months. However, a small percentage of patients, up to 10% in one study, may live five years or longer. New treatments for Glioblastoma are currently being investigated across the world. Clinical trials are being conducted in the United States to explore immunotherapies and tumor vaccines.
Cancer imunotherapy is a type of treatment that harnesses the body’s own immune system to recognize, target and attack the disease, similar to how the immune system helps the body fight infections and other diseases. Recently, a modified Polio virus was found to infect and attack Glioblastoma in certain patients.
Cancer vaccines are also classified as active immunotherapies because they rely on activation of a patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy a tumor. The vaccines are intended to strengthen the body’s natural immune response against the cancer.
No matter the treatment option, crossing the blood-brain barrier remains a big challenge for any new brain cancer treatment. The barrier includes a network of blood vessels and tissue that not only helps keep harmful substances from reaching the brain, but also can block medicines from entering the brain.There is a great need and enthusiasm for more research, as evidenced by the fact that 274 Glioblastoma studies across the country are actively recruiting as of today.