Emory Report

 September 15, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 4

'Wafers' provide alternative
for brain cancer treatment

Patients undergoing surgery for the most deadly form of brain cancer now have an alternative to the traditional chemotherapy that normally follows their surgery. Neurosurgeons at Emory Hospital are implanting chemotherapy "wafers" directly on areas of the brain where glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) tumors are removed.

GBM is the most common and the most deadly form of brain cancer and can double in size approximately every 12 days. Even with aggressive treatment, the five-year survival rate for patients is only 5.5 percent.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of the Gliadel wafer as an alternative to traditional chemotherapy in treating glioblastoma GBM.

"We found the chemotherapy wafer not only decreased the level of side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy, it also increased the survival time of some of the patients by several weeks," said Jeffrey Olson, co-director of the Center for Neuro-Oncology at the Winship Cancer Center and a primary investigator in clinical trials of the wafer.

"Gliadel has shown its greatest value in cases that have failed other forms of therapy. While this new treatment won't cure these patients, it may lengthen their survival and make them more comfortable because of its few side effects."

Treatment for patients with GBM involves surgical removal of the tumor, followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Intravenous chemotherapy does not always reach the brain efficiently, and doses high enough to kill cancer cells may also result in serious side effects to the patient as they travel through the body.

With this alternative treatment, the neurosurgeon places up to eight chemotherapy-containing wafers directly on the area in the brain where the cancer was removed before closing the incision. The wafers erode over three weeks, killing residual tumor cells.

Olson said the chemotherapy wafer is not an experimental treatment but an accepted and approved alternative to traditional chemotherapy.

"It allows us to offer glioblastoma multiforme patients a more comfortable treatment option as well as a longer survival period," he said. He has used this form of therapy in selected cases for seven years.

-Susan Stewart

Return to September 15, 1997, contents page