The study covered long-term follow-ups on patients who had enrolled in clinical trials in 1998. These patients were all suffering from slow-growing brain tumors called grade 2 gliomas, which start in brain cells known as called glial cells. Preliminary results had proven that adding chemotherapy to existing radiation regimens prevented tumors from further growing, regardless whether the patients opted for surgery or not. But the newly released results now add that chemo could extend their lives as well.
According to figures from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, about 23,000 adults in the US were found to have brain cancer last year. Grade 2 gliomas are thought to be very uncommon, as only 5 to 10 percent of all adult brain cancers are of this type. However, grade 2 gliomas are notable because they tend to affect younger adult patients, and a good percentage of them die early. According to Buckner, this is what motivated him and his team to find out whether combining chemo with radiation treatment could add some years to their lifespan.
A relatively young group of 251 patients, with many of them about 40 years old, were recruited to the study between 1998 and 2002, with half assigned to receive six weeks of radiation treatment alone, and the other half getting radiation followed by chemotherapy and three different medications. Some of the patients also got to have some of the cancer removed via surgery before undergoing radiation.
Although more than half of the patients died at the end of the study coverage, those who got chemotherapy lived 13 years, as to only eight years for those who were part of the radiation-only group. Buckner called this a “significant difference.”
“Until now, there hasn’t been any therapy known to improve life expectancy for these patients,” said Dr. Jan Buckner, oncology chair at Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study.
Dr. Susan Chang, neuro-oncology head at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, concurred with Buckner’s assessment, but warned that safer, “less toxic” regimens may also be needed.
“We should celebrate that we have a treatment that can prolong these patients’ lives,” she said in a statement. “But at the same time, we have to recognize that there’s a need for less toxic treatments.”