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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 12:57 GMT
Progress slow against brain tumours
Brain scan
Brain tumours are difficult to treat
Chemotherapy makes only a marginal difference to the life expectancy of patients with hard-to-treat brain tumours.

But scientists are hopeful that in future, new drugs or combinations of treatments will boost survival.

Life expectancy was increased, on average, from ten to 12 months for adult patients who received chemotherapy, a study showed, compared to those receiving no extra treatment after surgery and radiotherapy.

Two years after treatment, 15 out of every 100 patients assigned chemotherapy in addition to surgery and radiotherapy were still alive, compared to ten out of every 100 receiving only the surgery and radiotherapy.

Cancer specialists say the findings show the need to develop new and more effective chemotherapy drugs to make even greater progress in this area.


Maybe if we get new and better drugs this might be a good place to try them in this particular type of cancer

Professor Robert Souhami, Cancer Research UK
The study involved reviewing data from 3,000 patients worldwide, who had developed high grade gliomas - an uncommon form of brain cancer, which affects 10 people per 100,000 per year.

The tumours are difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat because they tend to be centred deep within the brain.

Doctors use a combination of surgery, followed by radiotherapy.

However, survival rates are poor and people tend to live for nine months on average.

Only 5-10% of patients survive for two years.

Treatment choices

Over the last 30 years, several trials have used nitrosourea drugs in addition to surgery and radiotherapy.

The combination of therapies showed on average a 6% improvement in survival rates.

Professor Robert Souhami, Director of Clinical Research at Cancer Research UK, said: "This shows that chemotherapy is capable of doing something and maybe if we get new and better drugs this might be a good place to try them in this particular type of cancer.

"No-one has known whether chemotherapy has ever had any effect on brain cancer, so now we are saying this is an area where we should try new agents."

In an article in The Lancet, the researchers suggest further trials should be carried out using newer types of chemotherapy.

Lesley Stewart from the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit, which carried out the analysis, said: "This is a comprehensive review of trials worldwide giving the most reliable estimate of the benefit of this treatment, that patients, their families and doctors can use to help make choices about treatment options."

About 4,500 people are diagnosed with brain tumour each year in the UK, of which 70-80% are high grade gliomas.

They mostly affect children, or those between the ages of 50 and 60.

See also:

20 Feb 02 | Health
Virus link to brain tumours
21 May 01 | Health
Deadly virus 'wipes out tumours'
22 Oct 01 | Health
Cancer leaves mark on children
07 Jun 99 | Medical notes
Brain tumours
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