Brain Cancer

Brain Cancer

Brain tumors present a particular challenge as the risk of harming healthy brain tissue can severely limit doctors' ability to use surgery, radiation or other treatments. Still, researchers are making steady progress to extend survival and improve patients' quality of life. For example, recent genetic discoveries have led to the identification of distinct sub-types of brain tumors, allowing doctors to personalize care to individual patients and providing potential targets for new treatments.

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1999

New oral chemotherapy drug, temozolomide, increases glioma survival

New oral chemotherapy drug, temozolomide, increases glioma survival

The FDA grants accelerated approval to the oral chemotherapy drug temozolomide (Temodar) to treat anaplastic astrocytoma (a form of high-grade glioma) that recurs following other therapy. The approval is based on early-stage data suggesting that the drug shrinks tumors and is generally well tolerated. In 2005, temozolomide receives full approval for this and other high-grade gliomas, based on data showing that adding the drug to initial radiation therapy increases two-year survival by as much as 50 percent.

1994

National Cancer Institute establishes brain tumor research networks

National Cancer Institute establishes brain tumor research networks

Spurred by emerging understanding about the complexity involved in treating brain tumors and the urgent need for improved therapies, the NCI establishes major brain tumor clinical research networks for adults and children. These groups are comprised of the nation's top brain cancer experts from academic centers who collaborate to evaluate novel therapies for patients with newly diagnosed and recurrent brain tumors.

1993

World Health Organization develops universal system for classifying brain tumors

World Health Organization develops universal system for classifying brain tumors

New international standards for classifying brain and nervous system tumors give doctors and researchers a common language for describing and sharing knowledge about tumor staging and characterization, genetics and treatment. Before this time, many different classification systems were in use around the world, making it difficult to communicate and translate research findings and improve patient care. Experts now reconvene every several years to update the WHO system based on growing knowledge about tumor classification and identification of new sub-types.

Adding chemotherapy to radiation after surgery increases survival for malignant gliomas

Adding chemotherapy to radiation after surgery increases survival for malignant gliomas

A large analysis of the results of several studies shows that adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy helps patients with surgically treated malignant gliomas live longer compared to radiation therapy alone. Randomized trials had previously found that this approach yielded only marginal benefits, yet when the data from these individual studies were assessed in combination, the survival advantage became more pronounced. Despite this result, the still-modest benefits of the combination approach, and the potential for serious side effects, have led to continued debate about its use.

1985

Gamma Knife therapy introduced for treating brain tumors

Gamma Knife therapy introduced for treating brain tumors

After nearly two decades of research, doctors begin using a non-invasive technique known as Gamma Knife to treat certain brain tumors. Also called stereotactic radiosurgery, the approach utilizes precisely focused radiation waves to disrupt cancer cell function and replication, while leaving the brain tissue surrounding the tumor largely untouched. Gamma Knife may also be combined with other forms of cancer therapy, including surgery. The approach continues to be refined today.

1983

MRI greatly improves ability to diagnose and monitor brain tumors

MRI greatly improves ability to diagnose and monitor brain tumors

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) quickly gains widespread use following its introduction in the mid-1980s, replacing CT scanning as the primary imaging tool for brain tumors. This new technology provides the clearest-ever image of brain tumors and, for the first time, enables doctors to see small, low-grade tumors. Today, refined MRI technologies are widely used to diagnose brain tumors, assess their size and specific location, and non-invasively monitor whether a tumor is responding to therapy. Unlike a CT scan, which uses X-rays to create an image, MRI uses magnetic fields to create detailed pictures of the brain and other tissue.

1977

Radiation established as standard treatment for glioblastoma

Radiation established as standard treatment for glioblastoma

Radiation therapy becomes a mainstay of treatment for glioblastoma, a highly aggressive form of glioma, based on data showing it extends median survival from 3 months to about 9 months. This is the first time a treatment is proven effective against any brain cancer. Today, radiotherapy is used alone or with chemotherapy, both before and after surgery, and in patients with inoperable tumors.

1974

First promising chemotherapy for glioma

First promising chemotherapy for glioma

Researchers report the first data on efficacy of the chemotherapy drug carmustine (BCNU). Unlike other chemotherapy drugs available at the time, carmustine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly attack gliomas. Although this drug can cause significant side effects, the first trials show that it shrinks some tumors. Later trials show that carmustine and other similar drugs also provide a small but significant increase in long-term survival when used with other treatments.

1973

CT scanning provides first clear image of brain tumors

CT scanning provides first clear image of brain tumors

Researchers perform the first computed tomography (CT) scan on a human patient – a woman with a suspected brain tumor. With CT scanning, which uses X-rays to create images of "slices" of the brain, doctors are for the first time able to clearly see tumors arising in the soft tissue of the brain. Over the following decades, this technology continues to be refined and used in combination with other imaging approaches, such as MRI.