By Bret Stetka
The most common form of malignant brain cancer—called a glioblastoma—is notoriously wily and considered the deadliest human cancer. Glioblastomas charge their way into normal brain tissue diffusely and erratically, making them surgical nightmares. And they mutate at such a rapid rate that most currently available cancer treatments can’t keep up with them. Even neighboring tumor cells can be genetically distinct, and therefore hard to target with a single therapy.
Survival rates from glioblastomas enjoyed a modest bump in the 1980s when radiation became a standard part of the treatment protocol. Patients could expect to live for nearly another year after diagnosis, up from just four to six months. The introduction of the chemotherapy drug temozolomide in the 2000s increased survival another few months. But since then patient survival rates have stalled.
In recent years, glioblastomas famously claimed the lives of senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain, and Joe Biden’s son Beau. Even access to what was presumably some of our country’s best cancer care couldn’t save the high-profile politicos. New approaches to treating this scourge of the brain are desperately needed. And many experts insist the key to beating glioblastoma will entail personalizing care to a patient’s individual tumor and the particular molecular signature of a cancer.
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