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VOL. 131 | NO. 34 | Wednesday, February 17, 2016

West Cancer Center Arms Up in Fight Against Brain Cancer

By Andy Meek

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West Cancer Center has a new tool in its arsenal with which to treat brain cancer and to, in the cancer treatment center’s description, “significantly” extend the rate of patient survival.

Dr. Matthew Ballo, West Cancer Center’s director of radiation oncology, demonstrates the Optune device. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The new treatment method being offered is thanks to a portable device called the Optune, an FDA-approved therapy that’s worn like a cap and is designed to send low-intensity electrical fields that are meant to disrupt the way cells divide.

It basically sticks to the scalp and sends electric current to generate electrical fields inside the brain, targeted at where a tumor is. When the cancer cells try to divide and grow, says West Cancer Center medical oncologist Dr. Manjari Pandey, that’s when the Optune’s electric fields will disrupt that activity and cause cancer cell death.

“The reason this is really important is this is the first treatment in a long time that has shown increased survival for patients with newly diagnosed adult Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), which is the most common cancer of the brain in adults,” Pandey tells The Daily News. “It’s an extremely aggressive tumor. The five-year survival for this kind of tumor is about 5 percent.”

The device is connected to a field generator similar in appearance to a battery pack that the wearer carries with them in a backpack, satchel or the like. They wear it for most of the day - at least 18 hours - and Pandey says it’s designed to not impede their usual routines, so that normal activities like going to work, sleeping and attending social functions don’t have to be disrupted by wearing the cap-like device.

The West Cancer Center’s director of Radiation Oncology, Dr. Matthew Ballo, says the organization is looking for new opportunities to expand the device’s use by conducting Phase I through Phase III clinical trials and neurocognitive studies.

The new treatment, meanwhile, also sets the stage for something else important at West Cancer Center: the launch of its new Comprehensive Neuroscience Program in a partnership with Semmes Murphey Clinic.

“The five-year survival for this kind of tumor is about 5 percent.”

–Dr. Manjari Pandey
The West Cancer Center

The new program will be led by a group of doctors that includes Pandey, and one focus will be research and improvement of care for GBM through the use of Optune therapy.

West Cancer Center cites data that includes overall survival rates for newly diagnosed GBM patients treated with Optune being as much as 50 percent higher than patients treated with standard chemotherapy. The organization also says the Optune deployment is the first in what will be a series of steps toward building the neuro-oncology program.

The partnership brings together two of the area’s leading health care organizations that have carved out different niches of expertise and bring different skill sets to the combination.

West Cancer Center is a leader in cancer treatment and research, with a longstanding commitment to giving patients access to clinical trials. It also works closely with Methodist Healthcare and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and in 2014 established The University of Tennessee/West Institute for Cancer Research.

That’s a nonprofit focused on research, developing treatments and therapies and patient care.

Semmes Murphey, meanwhile, has for more than 100 years been a leader in developing technology and procedures that improve the quality of care for patients with neurological and spine disorders. The clinic’s doctors specialize in neurosurgery, neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pain management and neuropsychology.

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