Tags: john mccain | brain cancer | cancer | death | cure

Doctors: Breakthroughs May Soon Defeat the Cancer That Killed McCain

Doctors: Breakthroughs May Soon Defeat the Cancer That Killed McCain
(Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

By    |   Saturday, 25 August 2018 09:06 PM

The brain cancer that felled Sen. John McCain, glioblastoma, is one of the most virulent malignancies known to man. Considered a virtual death sentence, it is probably a testament to McCain’s warrior spirit, and the loving care he received from his family and his doctors, that he was able to battle the disease as long as he did. 

Glioblastoma, which accounts for about 15 percent of all brain-cancer cases, is a merciless killer that strikes the brain’s supportive tissues, sending out eerie tentacles that snake through the brain, making it virtually impossible to remove all of the cancer surgically.

It’s the same disease that felled liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy and the former vice president’s son, Beau Biden. It strikes about 20,000 Americans every year, and until recently doctors considered it a stone cold killer.

“Glioblastoma is considered to be advanced by the time of diagnosis,” explains Dr. Solmaz Sahebjam, a neuro-oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. “At this time, it is not curable, meaning there’s no way to get rid of it. The aim is to control it as long as possible.”

Neuro-oncologist Dr. Ray Hohl, director of the Penn State University Cancer Institute, says the average survival is about 15 months, although a few live for over five years. To date, most treatments have focused on palliative care, quality of life, and extending the patient’s lifespan for perhaps a few months or a year.

“Some people live longer, many live shorter,” he observes. “At the end of the day, there are very, very few long-term survivors.”

Help may soon be on the way, however. The New York Times reports that in the past five years the frequency of patients surviving two years or longer following a glioblastoma diagnosis tripled from 8 percent to 25 percent.

According to Informa Pharma Intelligence, a market research firm, there are currently 87 experimental therapies in clinical trials that target glioblastoma. Some drugs are vaccines, some involve gene therapy, some activate the immune system to fight the cancer, and some rely on monoclonal antibodies.

Among the new medicines and treatments just entering use or moving through the medical-trial pipeline:

  • A cocktail of Avastin, an anti-angiogenic drug that restricts blood vessel growth and helps control brain swelling, along with an immunotherapy medicine called Rintega that helps the body recognize the cancer the immune system needs to target.
  • CNS Pharmaceuticals is preparing a clinical trial of berubicin, an anticancer drug that is able to pass through the protective blood brain barrier to directly attack glioblastoma cells by interfering with their rapid multiplication. A previous study showed 44 percent of those treated experienced significant anti-tumor activity. 
  • On the surgery front, StatNews.com reports a new “imaging agent” won approval in June that could make a difference. Patients drink a product called Gleolan three to five hours before surgery. It it turns the tendrils of glioblastoma pink, enabling doctors to find and remove much more of it.
  • M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is collaborating with Moleculin Biotech on a drug known as WP1066, a STAT3 inhibitor, that can stimulate a natural immune response against tumor cells to halt their progression.
  • A study published by the Journal of Experimental Medicine suggests a derivative of the Zika virus, which induces cell death in the brains of developing fetuses, may one day be used to attack glioblastomas. The trick is to get the Zika to attack the cancer cells, while leaving normal brain cells alone. The study reports: “Genetically modified strains that optimize safety could have therapeutic efficacy for adult glioblastoma patients.”

— Gary Greenberg

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The brain cancer that felled Sen. John McCain, glioblastoma, is one of the most virulent malignancies known to man. Considered a virtual death sentence, it is probably a testament to McCain's warrior spirit, and the loving care he received from his family and his doctors,...
john mccain, brain cancer, cancer, death, cure
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2018-06-25
Saturday, 25 August 2018 09:06 PM
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