Brain Cancer

In 2001, my father, Dan Case was diagnosed with advanced brain cancer. He survived 15 months with the support of radiation, traditional chemotherapy and a number of experimental drugs. During his illness, my parents created a foundation called Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure or ABC2. The foundation is focused on research and bringing new drugs into clinical trials. While there has been progress in our fight against this disease, there are many challenges ahead.

Brain cancer continues to be a global epidemic. This year, one out of every 200 people will die of brain cancer. Brain tumors are also the leading cause of death in pediatric oncology patients.

Many questions are helpful in understanding this disease.


What is brain cancer?
Brain cancer is a disease where cancer cells grow in brain tissue. The cells grow to form a mass called a tumor that interferes with normal brain functions like muscle control or memory. The tumors can grow at a very fast rate, and depending on where they are located in the brain, they can be very difficult to treat. Below is a diagram that shows some of the different types of tumors in the brain.

external image brain_tumor.gif

What causes brain cancer?

Brain cancer can either originate in the brain as a primary tumor, or it can spread from another part of the body and be a metastatic tumor. In either case, there is little knowledge about why the cells become cancerous. Researchers have speculated that cell phones may cause cancer, or that headaches might link to brain cancer. But there isn’t any real evidence about the factors that cause brain cancer. It is most likely there is not a single factor, but many factors that contribute to the disease. As a result research is primarily focused on treating the cancer, rather than preventing it.


What symptoms are there for brain cancer?

Brain cancer can be hard to diagnose. The symptoms may not seem specific to brain function. They can include: walking difficulty, weakness, headaches, vomiting, seizures, or a change in mental capacity. The most common way to diagnose a tumor is through a CAT scan. That may or may not be performed based on the symptoms.



What treatment options exist for brain cancer patients?

The treatment options available to brain cancer patients vary depending on the location and stage of the tumor. The tumors are categorized into 4 stages, with stage 4 being the most advanced. In the most advanced cases, patients are lucky to have 12 to 24 months to live.

The most common treatment options include; surgery, then radiation, followed by chemo therapy. A patient may experiment with several types of chemo therapy to see which one is more effective in treating their specific tumor.

There is new technology available today that can map the genetic make-up of tumor tissue. That information can also help target the chemo therapy treatment for a patient.

Below is a diagram that shows the functions in the brain and how treatment and surgery can be limited based on the location of the tumor.



external image 1074.jpg


Who is most likely to get brain cancer?

The demographics for brain cancer are summarized in the following five graphs. The first graph shows that men have a higher chance of being diagnosed and dying from a primary malignant brain tumor. The second graph shows brain cancer is more common amongst African American and Asian Pacific Islanders. The third graph indicates that brain cancer occurs most often in people ranging from 65 to 74 years of age. The fourth graph shows that the younger the person is, the more likely they will survive 5 years. The fifth graph highlights that even though Caucasian people have a lower chance of getting brain cancer, they account for 91% of diagnoses and most likely a disproportionate amount of medical care.



Graph 1
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Graph 2
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Graph 3
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Graph 4
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Graph 5
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What are the issues with pediatric brain tumors?

There has been an increase in diagnosis of pediatric brain tumors over the last twenty years. Between 1973 and 1994, childhood brain tumors increased by 35%. The increase is due to better imaging technology which makes it easier to diagnose.

Brain tumors are the leading cause of death in children. Leukemia used to be the primary cause of death, but thanks to new drugs it can be managed as a chronic illness.

Children under 5 years of age have the strongest incidence of brain tumors. The most common tumor is a stage 3, astrocytoma.


What new treatments are available?

In April of 2009, a new drug, called Avastin, received accelerated approval by the Food and Drug Administration for use in brain cancer patients. That drug was originally developed for colon cancer and has been found to have some real benefits to brain cancer patients. Over 61% of the patients who were treated with the drug, showed no signs of tumor advancement at 15 months. This is a major breakthrough and the first promising drug in almost 30 years.


Conclusion

Brain cancer truly is a global disease. It is the most complicated form of cancer on our planet and is the leading cause of death in pediatric patients. We are making progress fighting this disease, but have many challenges ahead. We can make a difference by supporting brain cancer charities and making donations to research.

I personally hope there will be a day when no one has to experience the loss of a loved one or friend to this terrible disease.


Bibliography



Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure. “Statistics.” Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure. 2009. 23 Jan. 2009 <http://www.abc2.org/‌statistics.shtml>. My parents web site
National Cancer Institute. “National Cancer Institute Brain Tumor Study in Adults: Fact Sheet.” National Cancer Institute. 20 Dec. 2000. NCI. 23 Jan. 2009 <http://www.cancer.gov/‌cancertopics/‌factsheet/‌braintumorstudy>. SHows ideas for why people get it
The New York Times. “Brain Tumor.” The New York Times. 5 Dec. 2008. 6 Feb. 2009 <http://health.nytimes.com/‌health/‌guides/‌disease/‌brain-tumor-adults/‌background.html>. Types of Brain tumors
North Carolina T_b6lnlVO8bmG9MGMalce6tlb_8=&h=290&w=485&sz=7&hl=en&start=11&um=1&tbnid=gshICPHDRvR89M:&tbnh=77&tbnw=129&prev=/‌images%3Fq%3Dbrain%2Bcancer%2Bstatistics%2Bas%2Ba%2Bgraph%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26rlz%3D1T4GGLG_en%26sa%3DN>. graph

Schoenstadt, Arthur. “Brain Cancer Statistics.” Med TV. 27 Aug. 2006. Med TV. 23 Jan. 2009 <http://cancer.emedtv.com/‌brain-cancer/‌brain-cancer-statistics.html>. Great website for percents and statistics
Swierzewski, III, M.D., Stanley J. “Brain Cancer.” Oncology channel__. 27 Nov. 2007. 30 Jan. 2009 <http://www.oncologychannel.com/‌braincancer/‌index.shtml>.