Brain cancer sufferers will now have a choice of treatment with a new, noninvasive treatment that has just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It uses an electrical field that breaks cancer cells apart and is meant to be used for certain kinds of brain cancer that hasn’t responded to traditional treatment.
The instrument is called the NovoTTF (tumor treating fields), and it was created by NovoCure Ltd., which has offices both in Israel and the U.S. It is approved to treat glioblastoma, a common form of brain cancer. For now, it will only be used for patients with recurrent glioblastoma, which is a cancer that keeps growing, even after chemotherapy and surgery has been tried.
The NovoTTF keeps cancer cells in the brain from dividing and multiplying by using alternating electrical fields transmitted by insulated electrodes which are put on the scalp inside of a large, white bandage like head covering. It’s powered by a battery pack that is stored in a shoulder bag, and is about the size as a small laptop computer. The electrical field created by the NovoTTF will not harm normal cells, and the main side effect is scalp irritation.
The approval came with a 7-3 vote by an FDA advisory panel of non-FDA medical experts. They all agreed that the product was safe, but were divided on how effective the treatment was.
Patients in the studies with the product stayed connected to the device 20 hours every day. There were 237 patients in the study from Europe and the U.S. who had advanced brain cancer and previous standard treatment had not helped their conditions.
During the study, half used the device, while half got more chemotherapy. The patients were able to survive and additional six months in both groups. Patients with this type of brain cancer usually get surgery to remove the tumor, then radiation and chemotherapy. Glioblastomas are hard to treat and are the most deadly form of brain cancer, with most victims dying within five years of diagnosis, and some as little as six months if the tumor is especially bad.
While some panel members weren’t convinced of its effectiveness, they all agreed that it didn’t do patients any harm. Patients in the study urged the FDA to approve it because it gave them freedom from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, which can cause severe nausea, hair loss, and other symptoms.
The device is now being tested in a new trail with both brain cancer and lung cancer patients.