Dr. Kevin Most: Senator John McCain and brain cancer

Steve Cochran

Dr. Kevin Most

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Senator John McCain passed away this weekend after a long and courageous battle with brain cancer. Senator McCain had what is termed a GBM, glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. This is the same brain cancer Ted Kennedy died from. Senator McCain was diagnosed July 14, 2017 and actually when you look his diagnosis probably could’ve been made a month earlier which puts his survival time at 14 months. The median survival time for glioblastoma’s from the time of diagnosis to death is from 15 to 17 months.  GBM has a five-year survival rate of less than 5%

13,000 Americans are diagnosed with the GBM each year. The difficult thing about GBM is that by the time they have symptoms from the tumor, it’s often too late for any definitive treatment.  Symptoms seen at the time of diagnosis could be something as simple as a headache, blurred vision or simple cognitive tasks that can’t be completed. Some will have seizures. If You Remember,  Senator McCain in June of last year, had some unusual questions I posed to James Comey this could’ve been a tip off to the work up for the GBM. They initially found a blood clot but further testing saw the tumor.

Treatments for GBM are very difficult because the cells are very small and they have spread by the time of diagnosis. When doing surgery it’s difficult to to distinguished between healthy tissue and tumors so surgery is not curative.

Senator McCain initially had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. It is unclear what further treatment he received but late last week they decided that the current treatment was not working.

There is a lot of work going on for improving treatment of this cancer but more needs to be done.

We have interestingly seen recently interest in vaccine trials. Vaccine therapy in some cases extended life for people up to two years. What they do to make the vaccine is to take a portion of the brain tumor of the individual themselves. They take this portion of the brain tumor and mix it with some of the individuals immune cells.  The combination of the tumor with immune cells allows for the immune cells to see the tumor as foreign and attack them. The doctor then injects these cells back into the patient and the cells seek out the tumor and attack it. The vaccine has not been great, but it has worked in 20 to 30% of the people with many other clinical trials going on.

It is stories like this that allows us to raise the awareness and the need for needed research for this illness it’s it’s a rare illness so research dollars are always not flowing in

The importance of this this is a vicious aggressive tumor that we need to be able to identify earlier and find other treatment options chemotherapy often will not work well because the body has a system to protect the brain from toxic chemicals called the blood brain barrier so that sometimes these chemicals will not get to the brain to treat the tumor but they also protect the brain when being treated for other things


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