Kennedy's Options for Treating Brain Cancer
From Vaccines to New Drugs, Novel Strategies Are Extending Lives of Some Patients
June 3, 2008 (Chicago) -- After Sen. Edward Kennedy recuperates from surgery
for brain cancer at Duke University
Medical Center he will begin targeted radiation and chemotherapy.
Kennedy, 76, has a type of brain tumor called a malignant
glioma. The standard treatment for glioblastoma, the most common form of
glioma, is the chemotherapy drug Temodar during and after radiation.
Studies have shown that half of people given the combination of radiation
and Temodar live nearly 15 months vs. 12 months for radiation alone. But the
range is variable, says Mark R. Gilbert, MD, professor and deputy chairman of
the department of neuro-oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson
Cancer Center in Houston.
At the annual meeting of the American College of Society Oncology (ASCO)
here this week, Gilbert and other brain cancer specialists reported on some
experimental therapies that Kennedy and his doctors may also be looking
Experimental Vaccine Improves Survival
One possibility is experimental treatment with a cancer vaccine that
bolsters the patient's immune system to attack the tumor.
Patients given the vaccine, known as CDX-110, typically live twice as long
as those not given the vaccine, according to the results of two small
One study involved 23 patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma tumors who
had undergone surgery, radiation, and Temodar treatment.
Half of patients treated with the injectable vaccine lived an average of
33.1 months. In contrast, people receiving standard treatment typically live
for an average of 14 or 15 months, says John H. Sampson, MD, a neurosurgeon at
The study also showed the vaccine extended the time to tumor recurrence
after surgery. Tumors came back an average of 16.6 months later in the vaccine
group vs. the standard 6.4 months for patients given radiation and chemo,
The vaccine was generally well tolerated, with the most common side effect
being soreness at the site of injection he says.
In the second study, half of the 21 patients given the vaccine lived for 26
months, says Sampson.
The findings are promising enough that researchers plan to move to the next
stage -- a larger trial comparing patients given the vaccine to those who don't
get it. The trial will involve about 90 patients at more than 20 cancer centers
across North America.
"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,
"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.