8 brain tumor treatment questions, answered

A brain tumor diagnosis and treatment can bring
many questions. That’s why John de Groot, M.D., co-leader of our Glioblastoma Moon Shot™, and Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., recently took time to
answer questions submitted online by brain tumor patients and caregivers.

Here are their responses to eight of the top questions we received
about brain tumor treatment.

What treatment options are available for patients facing a
brain tumor recurrence?

Weinberg: If there’s a mass that can be safely removed, we
remove it. This may alleviate symptoms and allows us to verify whether
it’s truly a recurrence, or something else (like dead tissue) that
just looks like a tumor on the MRI. Removing the tumor tissue also
allows us to perform molecular analysis to see if the patient is
eligible for a clinical trial.

What if my brain tumor is inoperable?

Weinberg: Whether a brain tumor is operable depends on its
size, location, the symptoms it’s causing and the experience of the
operating team. We perform many second opinions for patients with
“inoperable” tumors. Because of the experience of our neurosurgeons and the technology available
at MD Anderson, we’re able to safely
operate on many tumors that would be considered inoperable somewhere else.

We also have options to treat inoperable tumors without physically
removing them, including laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT). 

How and why are low-grade gliomas treated differently than
more aggressive brain tumors like glioblastoma?

de Groot: “Low-grade glioma” typically refers to a grade II
astocytoma or oligodendroglioma. Several recent Phase III clinical trials have shown that
oligodendroglioma is very treatable and that patients with this
disease can live for many years after treatment. With good
survivorship for low-grade gliomas, we want to minimize the potential
impact of aggressive therapy to the brain, which can affect quality of

How do you treat cancer that spreads to the brain from
elsewhere in the body?

de Groot: Solid tumor cancers such as lung cancer, breast cancer and melanoma can spread to the brain. These tumors are
called brain metastases. For a single tumor, we may consider surgery.
If there are multiple tumors, radiation or radiosurgery is typically used. Now, targeted
therapy and immunotherapy are also options for some patients.

We recently started a tumor board for patients with
metastatic disease. This allows MD
oncologists to meet with our neuro-oncology,
neurosurgery and central nervous system radiation oncology teams to
create a tailored treatment plan for each patient with brain metastases.

What are the most promising developments in brain tumor treatment?

Weinberg: We’re discovering and treating metastatic brain
tumors when they’re smaller, thanks to earlier MRIs. For primary brain
tumors, we’re now imaging functional brain nerves (which control
movement, speech and other important functions) with greater accuracy
and using that information in our surgical plan. That makes surgery safer.

Metabolic imaging is a new technique that helps us interpret changes
in the tumor that develop over time. It’s also helping us
differentiate between tumor regrowth and lesions caused by brain tumor treatment.  

Laser interstitial thermal therapy is another promising development
that appears to be very effective in treating certain tumors. Laser
interstitial thermal therapy works by inserting a probe directly into
the tumor and heating it enough to destroy the tumor from the inside.
Real-time MRI temperature monitoring makes it possible to do this safely. 

What’s the status of developing immunotherapy for glioblastoma?

de Groot: We’re currently introducing immunotherapy treatments to glioblastoma patients
through clinical trials. From what we’re seeing, the checkpoint
inhibitors that have worked in melanoma and lung cancer are probably
not a home run for glioblastoma. We’re now testing combination
therapies that combine a checkpoint inhibitor with another therapy in
clinical trials.

Other immunotherapy trials use a patient’s own cells, like T cells
or natural killer cells, and reprogram them to attack the brain tumor.
We’re hopeful that immunotherapy will make a big difference for glioblastoma. 

What other types of clinical trials are available for brain cancer?

de Groot: Besides immunotherapy, we have two other types of
clinical trials:

  • Targeted therapy for tumors that have specific
    molecular markers
  • Biologic therapies using Delta-24, a cancer-killing virus developed at
    MD Anderson

We also have trials for meningioma, leptomeningeal disease and other
brain tumors. See our brain tumor clinical trials here.

What’s your advice for brain tumor patients and caregivers?

de Groot: You’re an individual, not a statistic. You’re not
going to have the same experience as other brain tumor patients. Live
every day to its fullest and stay optimistic, with the expectation
that none of us can predict exactly what’s going to happen.

Weinberg: Remember, it might be your first time going through
brain tumor treatment, but it’s not ours.

Watch answers to more brain tumor questions in this Facebook video Q&A.

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or by calling 1-877-632-6789.