Cap helps slow brain tumor growth

TTF Therapy is used on patients with glioblastomas

SEATTLE, WA (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Massive headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, these are the signs of a brain tumor. Each year 41,000 people are told they have one. Now, a new device is helping put a cap on tumor growth.

Beach volleyball, surfing, skiing, Reggie Chan does it all. In fact, until a year ago, Reggie would ride his bike 15 miles to work and 15 miles back, but now riding his new trike is getting harder and harder.

"I woke up and felt my left foot was kind of still asleep," said Reggie Chan a brain tumor patient.

His symptoms were affects of a deadly brain tumor called glioblastoma and it all started with a headache.
"Right then and there I knew our lives were changed forever," said Laurie Chan Reggie's Wife.

Most patients only live a year after diagnosis.

"The tumor sort of infiltrates a healthy brain and that's why it's so difficult to remove completely," explained Dr. Maciej M. Mrugala, MD, PhD a Neurosurgeon at the University of Washington Medical Center.

Doctors at the University of Washington are some of the first to use a FDA approved cap, called TTFields to help kill the cancer. A battery pack fuels the electrodes.

At the right intensity, the electricity stops the cancer cells from growing, even killing them.

Reggie has been wearing the cap all day long, every day for the past four weeks.

"Actually it's working, the tumor has shrunk again," said Reggie.

Hopefully the tumor will continue to shrink.

Even though the electrical fields can shrink tumors, they do not hurt healthy cells and early studies show there are no other serious side effects.

Right now TTF Therapy is only being used for patients whose glioblastomas have re-grown, but clinical trials are beginning for patients newly diagnosed.


BACKGROUND: Every year close to 41,000 people are told that they have a brain tumor, primarily in adults. A brain tumor is a mass of abnormal cells in the brain. Some can be benign or malignant. Treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor, size, and location. Symptoms will also depend on size, location, and the rate it grows. Generic symptoms can include: new onset in headache patterns, hearing problems, headaches that become more severe and frequent, seizures, vision problems, behavior changes, gradual loss of movement in arms or legs, confusion in everyday tasks, and speech difficulties. (Source:

CAUSES: Primary brain tumors usually originate in the brain itself or in surrounding tissues. For example, they can originate in membranes that cover the brain (meninges), cranial nerves, or pituitary glands. Primary brain tumors begin when normal cells acquire mutations in their DNA. The mutations cause the cells to grow and divide at accelerated rates while healthy cells die, resulting in a tumor. Examples of primary brain tumors include: Astrocytoma, Pineoblastoma, Ependymoma, Meningioma, Oligodendroglioma, Ependymoblastoma, Germ cell tumor, Medulloblastoma, and Glioblastoma (the most common). Primary brain tumors are less common than secondary brain tumors. Secondary brain tumors are a result of cancer that started somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain. Any cancer can spread to the brain, including breast cancer, melanoma, lung cancer, colon cancer, and kidney cancer. (Source:

TREATMENT: Current treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. How the patient is treated depends on the size, type, and location of the tumor. Surgery is usually needed for most primary brain tumors. Some tumors can be removed completely, but for the ones that are too deep or that enter brain tissue have to just be reduced in size. Brain tumors usually require more than just surgery because the surrounding tissue can become invaded. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: For tumors that are more aggressive, like Glioblastoma, researchers are developing a new innovative way to combat them. In the past, electric fields were considered to cause cancer. Now they are using low-intensity, intermediate-frequency electric fields to fight brain tumors. It pinpoints tumors without surgery. Clinical studies have found that it can more than double survival rates. In a study performed by a biotech company in Israel, researchers glued four sets of electrodes on the scalp of 10 patients with Glioblastoma. They wore it on their heads 24 hours for 18 months. For eight people, the new approach increased their life expectancy. The tumors stopped growing in four patients and shrank in the other four. In one patient, the tumor disappeared and has remained tumor free for 2.5 years; the patient went into the study with a six month survival time. The device is called TT Fields cap. It is ideal for patients with Glioblastoma because tumor cells in the brain divide frequently and normal brain cells remain unaffected by the electric fields. A current study that involves more than 200 Glioblastoma patients in the U.S. and Europe is in a phase III trial. If it is successful, then the electric field therapy can be tested on other dangerous cancers, like breast cancer and progressive cancer. (Source:

Susan Gregg
University of Washington

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