Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Saturday, January 16, 1999 Published at 12:05 GMT


Lasers target brain cancer

Cancers on the brain are difficult to remove

A new method for treating brain tumours that uses drugs combined with laser therapy has been shown to almost double life expectancy rates in cancer patients, doctors have announced.

The average life expectancy for a brain cancer patient after standard surgery is 51 weeks. Using the new technique, doctors have extended this to 91 weeks.

Dr Robert Salker, a neurosurgeon at the Western Pennsylvania Hospital, has been testing the technique.

He said: "This method has proven to be of value in increasing life expectancy. A cure is elusive. But we are attempting to expand the quality of life period."

[ image: Traditional treatment involves radiation therapy]
Traditional treatment involves radiation therapy
The traditional treatment for brain tumours is surgery followed by doses of radiation.

The new technique also has two stages. First, the patient is injected with a light-sensitive drug called Photofrin.

The drug disappears from normal tissue after 30 hours, but remains in tumour tissue.

In the second phase, a laser that kills tumour cells is trained on the cancerous cells. The tumour can then be surgically removed.

The hospital is one of five medical centres in the US and Canada using the treatment in a clinical trial that is being funded by the US National Institutes of Health.

About a dozen patients have been treated so far, two of them at Western Pennsylvania Hospital.

Dr Selker said there are 13,000 new cases of brain cancer diagnosed every year in the United States.

"Our hope is that this (method) is going to help us increase the quality of life for patients," he said.

Other uses

There are no major side-effects from the treatment, but Dr Selker said patients are temporarily photosensitive and must take precautions to avoid direct sunlight and bright indoor lights for 30 days.

The procedure has been used at other medical centres to treat tumours in less sensitive parts of the body such as the lungs and oesophagus.

In the UK, research is being carried out on a similar technique, known as Boron neutron capture therapy. Patients are given a non-toxic compound that accumulates in the brain.

A beam of low energy neutrons is then fired at the affected area where they react with the compound to produce localised, cancer-killing nuclear particles.

The research is focusing on malignant gliomas, the most common cancer of the brain, which affects more than 3,500 adults and 250 children in the UK each year.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

07 Jan 99 | Health
Lamp could revolutionise cancer treatment

04 Nov 98 | Health
Cancer immunity - at a price

03 Nov 98 | Health
Brain discovery paves way for new treatment

21 Oct 98 | Health
Neutron beams used to treat brain cancer

08 Sep 98 | Health
Brain tumour surgery without the scalpel

Internet Links

Imperial Cancer Research Fund

Cancer Research Campaign

Cancer Web

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99