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Brain Cancer Health Center

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Seizure Drug May Extend Lives of Brain Cancer Patients

Study Shows Benefits of Valproic Acid for Patients With Glioblastomas
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 31, 2011 -- As many as half of all people with a common and potentially lethal type of brain cancer known as a glioblastoma will have a seizure at some point during their illness.

Doctors often prescribe a drug to help control these seizures. But until now little was known about which drug, if any, is the best choice.

When added to standard treatment, an older seizure drug, called valproic acid (sold with the brand names of Depakote, Depakene, and Stavzor) may extend the lives of people with this type of tumor by an average of three months, a study shows.

The study is published in Neurology.

"Three months could be a big deal," says Keith L. Black, MD. Black is the chair of the neurosurgery department at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He reviewed the study for WebMD.

Glioblastomas are the most common type of brain cancer seen in adults. On average, people live 15 to 18 months after they are diagnosed with this cancer, Black says.

Standard treatment may include:

"First, do no harm," Black explains. The hope was that the drugs would control seizures without dampening the effects of the other treatments.

Certain seizure drugs, called enzyme-inducing anti-epileptic drugs, may interfere with chemotherapy. These drugs include carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, phenobarbital, and phenytoin.

Until now, no one was thinking that any seizure drug could actually extend the lives of people with brain cancer. "Valproic acid may actually offer an additional benefit besides protection from seizures," Black says.

Impact of Valproic Acid

The study originally set out to compare whether or not chemotherapy provides a survival edge when added to radiation among 573 people with brain cancer. It did.

Of 398 people who were also taking seizure medications, the 97 who took valproic acid lived three months longer than those who took other types of seizure medications. They also lived longer than those who had seizures but were not taking any medication to control them.

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