Vaccine for brain cancer?

December 2, 2009 9:51:06 AM PST
According to the National Cancer Institute, a brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells within the tissues of the brain. There are more than 120 types of brain tumors, some of which are malignant and some that are benign. Experts estimate 22,070 new cases of brain cancer and 12,920 deaths due to brain cancer in the United States in 2009. Approximately 95 percent of the tumors are at high risk of returning after treatment, and over 360,000 Americans are living with the cancer today. SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of a brain tumor are not the same for all patients but may include morning headaches; frequent nausea and vomiting; loss of balance; vision, hearing and speech problems; weakness on one side of the body; unusual sleepiness; loss of appetite; unusual changes in personality or behavior; and seizures.

CURRENT TUMOR TREATMENTS: The Mayo Clinic says surgery is the initial therapy for patients with brain tumors and that surgery alone can cure most benign tumors. Although brain surgery used to mean large incisions in the head, removal of bone and drilling through the side of the face, endoscopic surgery has made it possible for neurosurgeons to access tumors through small incisions and even natural openings like the nose. For patients with cancerous brain tumors, treatment usually continues after surgery in the form of radiation and/or chemotherapy.

BRAIN TUMOR VACCINE: Researchers are testing a vaccine that trains the body's own immune system to attack brain cancer cells. It works by looking for a specific marker on cancer cells linked to the disease. "We know that our own immune system is the most powerful weapon that we have to attack disease, and if we can rev up our own immune system to attack these tumors, we can have outcomes that are much, much better than we've ever had in the past," Ted Schwartz, M.D., a neurosurgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York, N.Y., told Ivanhoe. To be a candidate for treatment with the vaccine, patients have to have undergone surgery to remove the tumor, as well as chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors also have to assess whether or not a patient's tissue has the receptor that the vaccine targets. If it does, a patient can receive the vaccine as long as the tumor doesn't return within six weeks of standard treatment. Dr. Schwartz says about 20 to 30 percent of patients who have their tissue biopsied are candidates for the trial.


Andrew Klein
Public Affairs
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center
(212) 821-0560