A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy offers hope for young grade 2 glioma patients. This treatment may extend their lives by as much as five years.
Cancer doesn't discriminate, but the type of cancer a person can have depends on many risk factors, including age, lifestyle, environment, and genetics. Among the young adults, brain cancer is one of the most common and is the leading cause of death among this population.
While some brain cancers can be very aggressive, a number like malignant tumors of the glioma, a connective tissue of the brain, can be slow-growing that doctors may employ a wait-and-see approach or close monitoring if the tumors are stable. Nevertheless, it can also cause serious neurological conditions and lead to early death.
A follow-up study in New England Journal of Medicine shows that giving patients with chemotherapy drugs like vincristine, procarbazine, and lomustine after radiation therapy may be more effective than radiation therapy alone.
The researchers recruited 251 patients with grade 2 gliomas, including astrocytoma and oligoastrocytoma, between 1998 and 2002. Most of the participants were about 40 years old with some having a biopsy or subtotal resection of the tumors prior to radiotherapy. For six weeks, 126 of the patients received the combo of chemo drugs and radiation therapy and the rest only radiation.
After almost 12 years, the participants were followed up. The researchers discovered that 55 percent already died, while 67 percent experienced tumor progression. However, when it comes to overall survival, those who received the combo lived for 13.3 years compared to only 7.8 years of patients who received only radiation therapy - a difference of 5.5 years.
The difference in terms of progression-free survival is also higher among those with combo therapy while the overall survival rate at 10 years is 60 percent for patients with chemoradiation therapy, 20 percent higher than radiotherapy-only group.
"Until now, there hasn't been any therapy known to improve life expectancy for these patients," said Dr. Jan Buckner, lead researcher and chairman of oncology of the Mayo Clinic, about the promising results.
Dr. Susan Chang, Cancer.Net associate editor and neuro-oncology director of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center said that the treatment is a reason to celebrate, because it can prolong the life of patients.
However, the combo therapy can be toxic and has side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weight loss, and low blood cell counts, which mean patients are more prone to life-threatening infections.
Moreover, some patients who received the combo didn't respond positively, which may illustrate that glioma may manifest in different ways, or there may be a delayed benefit based on a subgroup analysis.