A new treatment for brain tumors

December 30, 2009 9:00:02 PM PST
Gail McWilliams loves the holidays. She's got a collection of special Christmas stockings and a life-sized St. Nick.

This year marks Gail's fourth holiday season battling grade 4 glioblastoma, the same type of brain cancer which took the life of Senator Edward Kennedy.

After radiation and chemotherapy did little to help, doctors gave Gail the drug Avastin, which was developed for colon cancer.

It works by blocking a protein that the tumor needs to grow.

"It's kind of like dealing with a weed in your garden. You may pluck the weed out, a dandelion for example, you still have roots remaining, and until you deal with the roots, you've got a problem," Dr. Adam Dicker of Jefferson University Hospital said.

Gail's husband Charlie noticed big improvements in her ability to do daily tasks.

And Avastin generally has fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy.

For 18 months, it helped kept her cancer in check.

She was so enthused about Avastin, she urged FDA advisors to give it the OK to be used for brain cancer.

Avastin did get the FDA's approval.

But doctors say it's too soon to know whether it really lengthens life, however most agree it can improve the quality of life.

"I don't think anybody thinks Avastin is going to be a home run, but in a field which didn't even have singles or doubles, Avastin is a triple," Dr. Dicker said.

"I have my husband I love so much, and my family, and my friends," Gail said.

Gail did suffer a relapse earlier this year, but she believes she has lived a longer and better life thanks to Avastin.

Researchers will continue to study Avastin and its potential benefits for all brain cancer patients.


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