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Information about Brain Tumors

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. We cannot assume responsibility for its accuracy. Please, obtain information about your condition from your Doctor. The Brad Kaminsky Foundation does not endorse any service, treatment, institution or physician

Information About The Brain / Possible Causes / Types Of Brain Tumors / Symptoms / Diagnostic Tools
Treatments / Clinical Trials / Follow Up Care / Medical Definitions

Clinical Trials

Researchers are looking for treatment methods that are more effective against brain tumors and have fewer side effects. When laboratory research shows that a new method has promise, doctors use it to treat cancer patients in clinical trials. These trials are designed to answer scientific questions and to find out whether the new approach is both safe and effective. Patients who take part in clinical trials make an important contribution to medical science and may have the first chance to benefit from improved treatment methods. Many clinical trials of new treatments for brain tumors are under way. Doctors are studying new types and schedules of radiation therapy, new anticancer drugs, new drug combinations, and combinations of chemotherapy and radiation. Scientists are trying to increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy by giving treatments twice a day instead of once.

Also, they are studying drugs called radiosensitizers. These drugs make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation. Another method under study is hyperthermia, in which the tumor is heated to increase the effect of radiation therapy. Many drugs cannot reach brain cells because of the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels and cells that filters blood going to the brain. Researchers continue to look for new drugs that will pass through the blood-brain barrier. Studies are under way using different techniques to temporarily disrupt the barrier so that drugs can reach the tumor. In other studies, scientists are exploring new ways to give the drugs. Drugs may be injected into an artery leading to the brain or may be put directly into the ventricles. Doctors are also studying the effectiveness of placing tiny wafers containing anticancer drugs directly into the tumor. (The wafers dissolve over time.) Researchers are also testing the use of very high doses of anticancer drugs. Because these higher doses may damage healthy bone marrow, doctors combine this treatment with bone marrow transplantation to replace the marrow that has been destroyed.

Biological therapy is a new way of treating brain tumors that is currently under study. This type of treatment is an attempt to improve the way the body's immune system fights disease. Patients interested in taking part in a clinical trial should discuss this option with their doctor. They may want to read Taking Part in Clinical Trials: What Cancer Patients Need To Know an NCI booklet that explains some of the possible benefits and risks of treatment studies. One way to learn about clinical trials is through PDQ, a computerized resource developed by the National Cancer Institute. This resource contains information about cancer treatment and about clinical trials in progress all over the country. The Cancer Information Service can provide PDQ information to patients and the public Side Effects of Treatment Cancer treatment often causes side effects. These side effects occur because treatment to destroy cancer cells damages some healthy cells as well.

The side effects of cancer treatment vary. They depend on the type of treatment used and on the area being treated. Also, each person reacts differently. Doctors try to plan the patient's therapy to keep side effects to a minimum. They also watch patients very carefully so they can help with any problems that occur. A craniotomy is a major operation. The surgery may damage normal brain tissue, and edema may occur. Weakness, coordination problems, personality changes, and difficulty in speaking and thinking may result. Patients may also have seizures. In fact, for a short time after surgery, symptoms may be worse than before. Most of the side effects of surgery lessen or disappear with time. Most of the side effects of radiation therapy go away soon after treatment is over. However, some side effects may occur or persist long after treatment is complete. Some patients have nausea for several hours after treatment. Patients receiving radiation therapy may become very tired as treatment continues. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise their patients to try to stay reasonably active. Radiation therapy to the scalp causes most patients to lose their hair. When it grows back, the new hair is sometimes softer and may be a slightly different color. In some cases, hair loss is permanent. Skin reactions in the treated area are common. The scalp and ears may be red, itchy, or dark; these areas may look and feel sunburned. The treated area should be exposed to the air as much as possible but should be protected from the sun. Patients should not wear anything on the head that might cause irritation.

Good skin care is important at this time. The doctor may suggest certain kinds of soap or ointment, and patients should not use any other lotions or creams on the scalp without the doctor's advice. Sometimes brain cells killed by radiation form a mass in the brain. The mass may look like a tumor and may cause similar symptoms, such as headaches, memory loss, or seizures. Doctors may suggest surgery or steroids to relieve these problems. About 4 to 8 weeks after radiation therapy, patients may become quite sleepy or lose their appetite. These symptoms may last several weeks, but they usually go away on their own. Still, patients should notify the doctor if they occur. Children who have had radiation therapy for a brain tumor may have learning problems or partial loss of eyesight. If the pituitary gland is damaged, children may not grow or develop normally. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs that are given. In general, anticancer drugs affect rapidly growing cells, such as blood cells that fight infection, cells that line the digestive tract, and cells in hair follicles. As a result, patients may have a lower resistance to infection, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores. Patients may also have less energy and may lose their hair. These side effects usually go away gradually after treatment stops. Some anticancer drugs can cause infertility.

Women taking certain anticancer drugs may have symptoms of menopause (hot flashes and vaginal dryness; periods may be irregular or stop). Some drugs used to treat children and teenagers may affect their ability to have children later in life. Certain drugs used in the treatment of brain tumors may cause kidney damage. Patients are given large amounts of fluid while taking these drugs. Patients may also have tingling in the fingers, ringing in the ears, or difficulty hearing. These problems may not clear up after treatment stops. Treatment with steroids to reduce swelling in the brain may cause increased appetite and weight gain. Swelling of the face and feet is common. Steroids can also cause restlessness, mood swings, burning indigestion, and acne. However, patients should not stop using steroids or change their dose without consulting the doctor. The use of steroids must be stopped gradually to allow the body to adjust to the change. Loss of appetite can be a problem for patients during therapy. People may not feel hungry when they are uncomfortable or tired. Some of the common side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting, can also make it hard to eat. Yet good nutrition is important because patients who eat well generally feel better and have more energy. Eating well means getting enough calories and protein to help prevent weight loss, regain strength, and rebuild normal tissues. Many patients find that eating several small meals and snacks during the day works better than trying to have three large meals. Patients being treated for a brain tumor may develop a blood clot and inflammation in a vein, most often in the leg. This is called thrombophlebitis. A patient who notices swelling in the leg, leg pain, and/or redness in the leg should notify the doctor right away. Doctors, nurses, and dietitians can explain the side effects of cancer treatment and can suggest ways to deal with them.

In addition, the NCI booklets Radiation Therapy and You, Chemotherapy and You, and Eating Hints for Cancer Patients contain helpful information about cancer treatment and coping with side effects. Young People With Cancer: A Handbook for Parents provides information to help children handle the side effects of treatment. Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. We cannot assume responsibility for its accuracy. Please, obtain information about your condition from your Doctor. The Brad Kaminsky Foundation does not endorse any service, treatment, institution or physician. Clinical Trials For a list of current clinical trials, visit Al Musella's website ' Mr. Musella is another amazing crusader in this war against brain tumors.

(Updated 08/30/01) --

Clinical trials are research studies in which people help doctors find ways to improve health and cancer care. Each study tries to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer. A clinical trial is one of the final stages of a long and careful cancer research process. Studies are done with cancer patients to find out whether promising approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are safe and effective. What are the different types of clinical trials? Treatment trials test new treatments (like a new cancer drug, new approaches to surgery or radiation therapy, new combinations of treatments, or new methods such as gene therapy). See Taking Part in Clinical Trials: What Cancer Patients Need to Know. Prevention trials test new approaches, such as medicines, vitamins, minerals, or other supplements that doctors believe may lower the risk of a certain type of cancer. These trials look for the best way to prevent cancer in people who have never had cancer or to prevent cancer from coming back or a new cancer occuring in people who have already had cancer. See Understanding Prevention Trials for additional information. Screening trials test the best way to find cancer, especially in its early stages. See Understanding Screening Trials for additional information. Quality of Life trials (also called Supportive Care trials) explore ways to improve comfort and quality of life for cancer patients. See Understanding Supportive Care Trials for additional information. What are the phases of clinical trials? Most clinical research that involves the testing of a new drug progresses in an orderly series of steps, called phases. This allows researchers to ask and answer questions in a way that results in reliable information about the drug and protects the patients. Clinical trials are usually classified into one of three phases:

Phase I trials:
These first studies in people evaluate how a new drug should be given (by mouth, injected into the blood, or injected into the muscle), how often, and what dose is safe. A Phase I trial usually enrolls only a small number of patients, sometimes as few as a dozen.

Phase II trials:
A phase II trial continues to test the safety of the drug, and begins to evaluate how well the new drug works. Phase II studies usually focus on a particular type of cancer.

Phase III trials:
These studies test a new drug, a new combination of drugs, or a new surgical procedure in comparison to the current standard. A participant will usually be assigned to the standard group or the new group at random (called randomization). Phase III trials often enroll large numbers of people and may be conducted at many doctors' offices, clinics, and cancer centers nationwide. Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. We cannot assume responsibility for its accuracy. Please, obtain information about your condition from your Doctor. The Brad Kaminsky Foundation does not endorse any service, treatment, institution or physician.



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