Story by: Ryne Dunkelberger on July 27, 2017
Recent news of Sen. John McCain’s brain tumor diagnosis shocked many around the country. The longtime legislator was found to have glioblastoma multiforme following surgery to remove a blood clot.
With the announcement of his diagnosis come questions about this rare disease and its treatment.
According to the American Brain Tumor Association, glioblastoma is a primary malignant brain tumor, which means it’s a cancerous tumor that develops in the brain. Though extremely rare — affecting only about 22,000 people in the country each year — glioblastoma is quite serious. For one thing, its cells tend to reproduce quickly and are supported by a large blood vessel network. For another, it tends to recur, or come back.
Symptoms can include headache, nausea, vomiting and drowsiness, as well as weakness, speech difficulties and memory issues.
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The standards of care today for newly diagnosed glioblastomas are surgery, radiation, a chemotherapy pill and a device worn on the scalp that produces low-dose alternating electrical fields.
In addition to these typical courses of treatment, doctors often recommend clinical trials. Norton Healthcare is among several institutions in the country offering ongoing clinical trials for glioblastoma.
According to Renato V. LaRocca, M.D., a cancer medicine specialist and neuro-oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute, significant clinical research is focused on immunotherapy.
“Check point inhibitors are showing great promise against lung cancer and other cancers. Their role in primary brain tumors is under investigation,” said Dr. LaRocca, who added that Norton Cancer Institute also is conducting a series of vaccine trials for newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma.
“Health care research is critical to producing new and innovative medications, devices and technologies that save lives and improve quality of life,” said Stephen Wyatt, M.D., vice president of Research for Norton Healthcare. “Trials like these ensure the people in our region have access to evolving clinical science.”
Sen. McCain is the latest high-profile person associated with politics to be diagnosed with glioblastoma. Former Sen. Edward Kennedy and Beau Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, also were diagnosed with and lost their lives to glioblastoma.
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