Health Team

Chemotherapy, Cancer Drug Could Be Used to Treat Brain Tumors

Posted March 7, 2007

WRAL Health Team
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— Some brain tumors cannot be surgically treated and other options may not be effective. Duke researchers believe they have found something that works for many patients.

Two years ago, Tiffany Phillips, 29, found it harder to be a mother to her kids. She couldn't even finish the last few courses she needed to earn a college degree in biology at North Carolina Central University.

"I was just sleepy, and I just didn't feel good," said Phillips.

Tests showed she had anaplastic cytoma, a grade 3 malignant glioma, which is a fast-growing brain tumor. She was asked if she felt any pain.

"It was no pain. I didn't have any pain," Phillips said.

"Yes, you did," said Hilda Hinton, Phillips' mother.

Hilda Hinton is used to filling in the gaps of her daughter's short-term memory.

"She had severe headaches. She was staggering, uncoordinated," said Hinton.

Radiation didn't help and once chemotherapy treatments stopped, the tumor grew back even faster. Surgery was too risky, because Phillips' tumor is deep in the thalamus, the master control center of the brain.

"When you have a tumor in the thalmus, nothing works well," said Duke oncologist Dr. James Vredenburgh.

Vredenburgh included Phillips in a 68-patient clinical trial for a type of chemotherapy called cpt-11, plus another drug called Avastin. Avastin is approved for use with metastatic colorectal cancer and lung cancer.

As tumors grow in certain parts of the body, they send out a protein growth factor that attracts new blood vessels. Avastin interferes with those signals, so the tumor starves.

Still in treatment, Phililps' tumor is shrinking, but her condition is still guarded.

"But we're optimistic with some of our new clinical trials that we will be able to control her tumor long-term," Vredenburgh said.

The tumor has already caused some irreversible damage in Phillips' brain, but Hinton said her daughter has made great progress. She is learning to work around some of her short-term memory problems by writing things down more.

"But I feel if she can get back to 85 percent, 90 percent, I'll take it. I'll take it and run with it," Hinton said.

Vredenburgh credits Avastin for the dramatic improvement in many patients in the trial like Phillips.

"I think it's the major source of improvement because we did a number of clinical trials with just cpt-11 and about 10 percent to 15 percent of people would respond," Vredenburgh said. "We've not seen the dramatic clinical improvements like we've seen with Tiffany with just cpt-11 alone."

Avastin does come with certain risks like raised blood pressure, increased protein in the urine and increased blood clots in the legs, so it's been used only where other therapies fail. Phillips met the strict criteria that Duke requires for their trial.


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