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    Kennedy's Options for Treating Brain Cancer

    From Vaccines to New Drugs, Novel Strategies Are Extending Lives of Some Patients

    Experimental Vaccine Improves Survival continued...

    "The data are very striking, but it's very preliminary," says Gilbert, who participated in the research. He notes that to qualify for the study, there has to be no signs of tumor regrowth on an imaging scan after surgery, radiation, and chemo.

    "The problem with glioblastoma is that some patients do very well and some do very poorly. By definition, the patients in this study are good-prognosis patients in that they had no signs of tumor growth after standard therapy. So until the larger head-to-head comparison is done, we can't say with certainly that the vaccine extends lives," he tells WebMD.

    Avastin for Recurrent Glioma

    Another possibility is adding the targeted cancer drug Avastin to standard treatment.

    Avastin prevents tumors from growing new blood vessels, thereby choking them to death. It is approved to treat metastatic breast cancer as well as metastatic colorectal cancer and advanced lung cancer.

    A study revealed at the ASCO meeting this week involved 167 people with glioblastoma who suffered a recurrence after standard treatment. They face a worse prognosis than people with newly diagnosed brain cancer.

    The study was funded by Genentech, which makes Avastin.

    Results showed that the median overall survival time was 9.2 months in those who received Avastin alone and 8.7 months in those who got Avastin plus the chemo drug with Camptosar.

    The most common severe side effects were high blood pressure and convulsions, similar to those observed in other studies of Avastin.

    "This is better than anything we have tried before for this group of patients," says researcher Timothy Cloughesy, MD, director of the neuro-oncology division at UCLA.

    Based on the results, doctors hope to launch a study of Avastin in newly diagnosed patients in the fall, Gilbert says.

    But even before then, doctors can prescribe the drug "off-label" -- that is, for purposes other than its FDA-approved uses -- for patients with newly diagnosed brain cancer if they think it will help, doctors say.

    Boosting Temodar's Dosage

    Massachusetts General Hospital, where Kennedy is scheduled to have his follow-up treatment, is participating in a study designed to see "whether giving more Temodar over a longer period of time can make these cancers even more treatable and further improve survival," Gilbert says.

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