Health Team

Duke conducting cutting-edge brain tumor treatments

Posted August 26, 2009 6:43 p.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2009 11:14 p.m. EDT

— When Senator Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor more than a year ago, he selected Duke's Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center for treatment. The center has a worldwide reputation for aggressive treatment of brain tumors and cutting-edge clinical trials.

WRAL’s Dr. Allen Mask said it used to be when a patient was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor, like Kennedy, it was not a hopeful prognosis.

Over the last few years; however, more treatment options have become available to brain cancer patients, said Dr. Henry Friedman, co-deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

“I think the vast majority of patients die of this tumor, but there is an ever increasing minority who, in my opinion, are being cured,” Friedman said.

Standard treatment includes surgically removing the tumor, followed by radiation therapy.

The FDA also recently approved the drug Avastin for treating brain tumors. It blocks a protein called VEGF to curb the growth of blood vessels that supply blood to the tumor.

A vaccine is in clinical trials at Duke, which would target proteins present in tumor cells.

Neither the hospital, nor the Kennedy family has released many details of the senator's treatment at Duke. He was 77 years of age when he died late Tuesday, and Friedman said age does play a role in surviving the disease.

“But clearly, patients who are older, in their 70s and 80s have a more challenging time fighting this tumor and being successful than in younger patients,” Friedman said.

Glioblastoma is considered a rare disease, only affecting 10,000 people a year in the United States. Heredity plays a role, but the vast majority of brain cancers have no known genetic link.