O

ne of the few treatments shown to prolong the lives of patients with brain tumors like Sen. John McCain’s is a mesh-like cap that zaps the brain with a low-level electric field. But cancer doctors have been slow to embrace it, and few patients use it.

The medical device, known as Optune and made by Novocure, was shown in a large clinical trial to prolong survival when used by patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma, the type of aggressive brain tumor just found in McCain. The Food and Drug Administration approved Optune for this use in 2015, making it the first treatment for newly diagnosed brain cancer to reach the market since 2005.

This is a STAT Plus article and you can unlock it by subscribing to STAT Plus today. It's easy! Your first 30 days are free and if you don't enjoy your subscription you can cancel any time.
Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • Anyone heard of Isoray’s GammaTile? It’s old brachytherapy principle with more effective dose and less damage to neighboring cells.

    I’m not sold on this cap business.

  • Please disclose whether this was a paid article and whether quoted docs were compensated or have other interest in Novocure.

    • Yeah, something stinks here. Usually, AF is first to call BS when bio company gets “press” coverage tied to a recent news event, now he’s doing it.

      I guess he’s gotta please his masters. There’s stuff out there that these doctors are paid by the company. Plus, there’s no mechanism. Seems like miracle cure devices we’ve seen before using magnets.

      Looks frankly like a possible lapse of journo ethics, no full disclosure.

  • Thanks for writing a great article Adam Feuerstein. I wonder if an antigen genome study such as described for the Cancer Vaccine, might be a better and more economical solution.
    “Draw tumor & non-tumor DNA , conduct DNA antigen sequence analysis, on both, find Neo-Antigens and deliver vaccine to blast tumor(s).

    Is Neo-Antigen treatment to be performed during early disease stages of disease only?
    If Glioblastomas are contained with in the brain complex membranes would Neo-Antigen treatment be effective in stopping and preventing tumor metastasis?

  • I am horrified about an “electric cap” treatment with all respect for scientist developement team demonstrating tumor reduction to cure of such a nasty fast advancing disease.
    I am sure there are criteria and pre-stablished frequency of treatment correlated to tumor size reduction.
    However not everyone is equal. Patient’s age as well as stage of disease without knowing cause and precursor calls for sound risk analysis with many variables to entertaining prior to a magnetic field array interacting with such a vulnerable organ transmitting function/response to the entire body.
    I am so sorry about your loss Sue McDermott.

    • How do you feel about blasting your body senseless with radiation and then destroying your immune system with chemo? I get the argument but let’s be honest here; with the inevitable of the tumor I’d have to call your bluff at drawing the line over low frequency TTF’s.

    • Paul, I really appreciate your comment. The disease treatment process (Chemotherapy/Radiation) is not a stranger to me and my family. It makes me feel kind of selfish reflecting on comment since I have been involve in cancer treatment selection, also.
      Looking back in retrospective, unecessary test and treatment have transpired over at least 4 or 5 decades. All in the name of research and finding the cure. From 1st generation Chemo therapies for bone cancer in the 70’s to PSA testing, lymph node characterization surgeries and all associated treatments in the 90’s to most recent proteomics, stem cell and other therapies.
      My concern relates to non-invasive devices available in the market involving ultrasound, low level electromagnetic frequency & light therapies.
      Ultrasound used for pain treatment is not recommended for use above the neck area. I find that very reasonable.
      Light frequency devices have know effect, on subject psychotherapy treatment applications.
      I imagine any electro activated device impacting cancer cells proliferation would have a disruptive affect such as induced neural function reduction/increase of scalating magnitudes over treatment time even if at very fractional scales.
      You might be right under certain circumstances where there are no other alternatives left, and it would extend life without excruciating pain.

    • Are you aware that this runs alongside Chemo and radiation and not as a “last chance” survival mechanism? It serves no benefit without it. How do you distinguish what’s caused by TTF’s and the tumor itself? Your statement claims it could have minimal (at best, unsourced results) effects but if you’re already at minimal function from the tumor why wouldn’t you use it?

    • Absolutely, these are most of the time sequential treatments/therapies reduce or annichilate tumors while; together or each incrementally extend(s) life.
      My concerns while unknown (not encountered or experienced), is specific to device use, side effect(s) and uncharacterized or quantified multi-therapies cellular disrruption (reduced mentalcapacity/phsychiatric/motor/senses) for therapies acting on tumor size, extending life by months, but not curing disease.
      I am sure family and individuals would have last word on use as an alternative option. It is wonderful to have so many alternatives. It still remains at life’s great cost!

  • Gawd Adam, is this the kind of junk reports they have you doing in your new gig? You know better than anyone, that without some scientifically plausible mechanism, it might as well be the placebo effect. Not like you could have a blinded study with that contraption. Tsk, tsk, what some will do to get a cut on some subscriptions!

    • Can’t find the data, please post link. Bet there’s difference in patient pops between arms, differences in degree of intervention or something. Again, expect better from you.

    • Interesting take Melanie. Considering there IS scientific research backing the device. Dig deeper into the research and note how it to get concrete data on something with such a short expectancy. This isn’t A or B, it’s A and B. If you have anyone that’s cares about you in this world and are faced with the decision I think it’s obvious which to choose. In a country filled with “prayer”, you choose to go with placebo on this?

    • Justin, I can’t decipher your point there. I don’t literally think its a placebo effect. You missed my point, which is where there is no concrete mechanism, the data is automatically suspect. What’s presented here is a poorly written, “flux capacitor” snake oil sounding explanation.

  • My daughter’s glioblastoma shrank after five months of wearing the Optune but had to stop wearing it after she began seizures and had to have scans on her head. It will be a year in mid Aug since she passed away. I honestly am not sure of all medical procedures but if it was my choice I would certainly give it a try. It is not painful…more of a nuisance then anything but we’ll worth the trouble.

Sign up for our Morning Rounds newsletter

Your daily dose of news in health and medicine.

X