Brain Cancer called gliobalistoma is the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer. It can spread across the brain bringing death in 3-4 months. Conventional treatment includes cutting out the growth, radiation treatment and chemo therapy administered by a pill. All this aggressive treatment prolongs the person’s life by only 2 months on the average.
A new Israeli invention which was presented at the conference of the World Federation of Neuro-Oncology in Switzerland demonstrated treatment by creating an electric field that prolongs the life of these patients and prevents the cancer from growing. So far 5,000 patients underwent this new treatment with positive results.
Dr. Rachel Grossman assistant head of Neuro-Surgery in Ichilov Hospital explained that until now the ability to prolong the life of these patients was severely limited. This is because there is a natural brain blood barrier that prevents the brain from getting infections but also prevents most medications from entering the brain. In addition, cancer tends to recur again and again genetically mutating itself each time creating immunity to the previous medication or treatment. So the treatment for gliobalistoma would come to a halt quickly. But with this new technology which was developed by Dr. Yoram Palti the ailment is attacked from a different front altogether.
The helmet Dr. Palti developed creates an electric field that prevents cancer cells from successfully completing their process of splitting and thereby multiplying. As long as the electric field envelops the cancer it cannot grow. On the other hand this same field does not harm healthy brain tissue and doesn’t hinder normal brain function. Dr. Aylon Kirson the head of research and development in Novocure, the company developing the ‘Opton Helmet’ says that the treatment with the helmet has prolonged patient’s lives for over 2 years in 45% of patients as opposed to 30% who would live past 2 years with the previous treatments. According to the research it is clear that many patients will live for over 5 years or more with this treatment. This treatment means that not everyone contracting this formerly deadly illness will die from it.
This helmet uses electricity from batteries to create the electric field and must be worn always. When turning the helmet off the electric filed ceases to exist which enables the cancer cells to split and multiply. Today this helmet weighs 1.4 kilo (3lbs.) and is attached to the head with wires and electrodes. The treatment is localized so consequently, side effects are also localized most of the time being a skin irritation from the electrodes. Besides swimming a person do most any activity with the helmet on. The helmet is visible on the head but can be covered with a hat or kerchief. The helmet is portable all day and is recommended to be worn for a minimum of 18 hours a day. Maintenance is simple enough. Patients can change the electrodes themselves twice a week, usually when they shampoo and bathe.
This helmet is approved by the FDA and the company offers tech-support around the clock. The helmet recently became available in Israel. Though not yet in the general health basket it is covered by private improved insurance policies.
How does this treatment affect the patient’s quality of life?
Initially, the helmet seems strange to many patients and there’s an emotional aspect of the patient publicly displaying he/she has cancer. But the benefits far outweigh the minuses and most patients will choose to use the helmet. Dr. Grossman says that patients who filled out quality of life questionnaires said their quality of life was greatly improved even though the helmet is a bit clumsy on their heads. This treatment allows them a very high quality of life without impairing neurological function as other treatments are liable to do.
Presently the possibility of using the helmet for other cancers is being investigated. Clinical trials are already showing positive results on various cancers including cancer of the pancreas, lungs, ovarian cancer and more. There is also ongoing research to minimize the size and weight of the helmet and to use the helmet to prevent certain cancers from coming.