Researchers in Switzerland have developed a new form of cancer treatment that makes use of low-intensity electromagnetic waves to help retard the growth of a particularly deadly brain tumor.

In a study featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Roger Stupp, chairman of the University Hospital Zurich's cancer center and oncology department, led a team of experts in developing a new treatment program to address tumors in the brain known as glioblastomas (GBM).

GBMs are comprised of star-shaped cells called astrocytes that can reproduce rapidly, causing the tumors to become highly malignant.

While glioblastomas are often be found in the brain's cerebral hemispheres, these malignancies can also be located in the spinal cord or other parts of the brain.

To combat the rapid growth of GBMs, Stupp and his colleagues examined the efficacy of combining electromagnetic field treatment with existing chemotherapy procedures.

The researchers randomly assigned around 700 glioblastoma patients to receive one of two follow-up therapies following the completion of their radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Around two-thirds of the participants were subjected to electromagnetic waves in addition to their chemotherapy medication temozolomide in order to treat their tumors, while the remaining patients were given the chemotherapy drug alone.

Patients who were assigned to the electromagnetic wave treatment were asked to shave their scalp and fitted with an electrode-laced cap, which they had to wear for at least 18 hours each day.

The researchers observed that participants who were subjected to electromagnetic field therapy remained relatively cancer-free for around 7.1 months compared to members of the chemotherapy-only group who did not suffer from the malignancy for only four months.

Electromagnetic field therapy recipients also had a better average overall survival of about 20.5 months compared to chemotherapy-only recipients who only had 15.6 months of average survival.Stupp and his colleagues note that GBM patients experienced only a few adverse effects from the electromagnetic field therapy. Most of them only had some rash from wearing their electrode cap, which was treated using steroid creams and ointments.

Stupp views their findings as a major development in helping patients diagnosed with glioblastomas manage their condition.

"This treatment may soon become a valuable addition to many situations where improved local tumor control by a noninvasive treatment is of importance," Stupp pointed out.

Photo: Kevin Stanchfield | Flickr

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