A 'sci-fi' cancer therapy fights brain tumors, study finds

Joyce Endresen wears an Optune therapy device for brain cancer as she speaks on a phone at work in Aurora Ill. She was diagnosed in December 2014 with Glioblastoma. She had two surgeries

A cap-like device that produces electric fields to fight cancer was found to improve the length of survival of brain tumor patients.

The new study--an worldwide, phase 3, prospective, randomized trial--tested the efficacy of adding so-called tumor-treating fields (TTFields) to standard adjuvant TMZ chemotherapy in 695 patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma.

Now they're in: Median survival was 21 months for those given Optune plus chemo versus 16 months for those on chemo alone. Similarly, the five-year survival rate shot up from 5% to 13% for patients treated with the drug combo compared to those treated with temozolomide alone.

In this March 29, 2017 photo, Joyce Endresen wears an Optune therapy device for brain cancer, as she speaks on a phone at work in Aurora, Ill. The device is cap-like and covers your scalp with electrodes that are attached to a small generator. For patients with GBM, the TTFields are delivered continuously to the brain by a patient-operated, medical device that is worn continuously (at least 18 hours) throughout the day. The cap will only give the patient a feel of heat and not radiation or electric current.

It supposedly works by creating low intensity, alternating electric fields that disrupt cell division - confusing the way chromosomes line up - which makes the cells die. The median follow-up period exceeded three years. When combined with the oral chemotherapy drug temozolomide, it significantly improved survival rates in patients, according to a clinical trial presented at an annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research on Sunday, April 2, according to Engadget. Novocure justifies the price tag by citing the 17 years of research and development but they will make the treatment free for patients on Medicaid. Dr. Antonio Chiocca, neurosurgery chief at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said.

Nevertheless, there are some doctors who declared themselves skeptical when it comes to such treatment. "Now, we see a meaningful improvement in survival at two years and beyond", said Roger Stupp, principal investigator for the study. The therapy will cost you $21,000 on monthly basis.

Novocure is working on treating other forms of cancer with the electrical fields, including advanced pancreatic cancer.

Related news: