Prognosis and treatment options for Sen. John McCain's glioblastoma

Because glioblastomas tend to have tendrils along the edge of the tumors, surgery cannot eradicate all the cancerous cells.
By James Carlin | Jul 25, 2017
When Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona had a blood clot removed above his left eye on Friday, doctors found a type of tumor called a glioblastoma an aggressive form of brain cancer that is especially challenging to treat, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

"The median overall survival rate is somewhere between 14 and 16 months," said radiation oncologist Dr. Raju Raval at Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center, in the Times report. "That means half of people with this diagnosis may live that long or longer, but the other half are no longer with us, despite everything that is done."

Because glioblastomas tend to have tendrils along the edge of the tumors, surgery cannot eradicate all the cancerous cells.

"Surgery is very effective at removing the mass of the tumor and relieving pressure in the brain, but it doesn't get you all the invasive cells," said Dr. Behnam Badie, director of the brain tumor program at City of Hope in Duarte.

Usually, the first step for a person diagnosed with a glioblastoma is to have surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. That is followed by up to six weeks of daily radiation and chemotherapy. The last step is a course of higher-dose chemotherapy, which continues for up to a year.

But even with such aggressive treatment, glioblastomas often recur.

"If you averaged everyone who received this standard treatment, almost half of the patients have tumors that come back in a year or a year and a half," Badie said.

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