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Cancer Drug can Extend Survival in Patients With Deadly Brain Tumors

the chemotherapy drug irinotecan either shrank the tumors or restricted their growth in nearly all cases for up to three months longer than comparative therapies. Three months is a significant advance when dealing with these aggressive tumors, Vredenburgh said; common current treatment normally offers only six to 12 weeks of halted growth before the tumor grows and spreads, ultimately destroying cognitive and physical function and leading to death.

Approximately 18,000 people are diagnosed with gliomas in the United States each year, making them the most common and most deadly malignant tumors of the central nervous system. Gliomas are difficult to treat because they grow quickly and occur behind the blood-brain barrier, a natural protective layer around the brain that prevents materials carried in the bloodstream -- including medicines -- from reaching the brain and spinal cord.

Life expectancy after diagnosis of a stage IV glioma -- the most aggressive kind of the cancer -- is eight to 15 months, Vredenburgh said. Individuals diagnosed with a stage III glioma, which is slightly less aggressive, survive 16 to 24 months on average. When the tumor returns after initial treatment -- which usually includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation -- the prognosis is even more grim, with an average life expectancy of three to nine months.

"When the tumor recurs after treatment, there are no standard therapies," Vredenburgh said. "This study may lead to options where there previously were none."

Avastin may be effective in treating gliomas because these tumors have a high concentration of vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that stimulates development of new blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis. New blood vessels spur a tumor’s growth and ability to spread, so researchers are interested in cutting off angiogenesis to slow tumors down. Avastin is an anti-angiogenesis drug that works by choking off the bloo
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