Changing the Way We Treat Brain Cancer

An international clinical trial, funded in part by Alberta Cancer Foundation donors, shows that patients with a certain type of brain cancer benefit from a combination of radiation plus chemotherapy compared to patients treated with radiation alone.

The long-term study started in 1998 and included top cancer centres from across North America.

“This was a very significant survival benefit—it is a practice-changing study,” says Dr. Albert Murtha, an oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute. He and his colleagues accrued a substantial number of patients to the study over the years it was open.

It's one of the biggest increases in survival for glioma patient treatment that we’ve seen

Dr. Albert Murtha

The study looked at 251 patients with low grade gliomas, a specific type of brain cancer that occurs mostly in young adults. It eventually causes progressive neurologic deterioration, seizures and premature death. Identifying the most effective treatment strategy is critical to ensuring the best outcomes for patients.

Patients who were either over the age 40 and had not received a gross total resection or who had neurological deficits were treated on this study. “Previously, the standard treatment was radiation alone and this study was meant to determine if the addition of chemotherapy could increase the survival rate,” says Dr. Murtha. “We learned that yes, it can.”

Clinical trials test new treatments to improve a diagnosis, prevention and manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer. Thanks to Alberta Cancer Foundation donors like you, we have been supporting life-saving clinical trials in this province for years, ensuring the best possible treatment options in Alberta for you and your loved ones. The Cross Cancer Institute is a leader in clinical trials and without your generosity, these trials would simply not take place. Thank you for making investments that matter.

In Dr. Murtha’s study, patients were randomly assigned to radiation therapy alone or to radiation therapy followed by six cycles of combination chemotherapy. Many patients were followed for more than a decade and the study found that patients who received both radiation and chemotherapy had a longer median survival rate of 13.3 years, compared to 7.8 years for those who received radiation therapy alone.

Although side effects were more toxic in the group that received both therapies, further research is being done on a biomarker that scientists believe will predict which patients would benefit from chemotherapy plus radiation in comparison to radiation alone. This will save patients from receiving unnecessary treatment if there is no benefit thus improving their quality of life.

Together we can continue to provide Albertans with the best possible treatment and care available. Thank you for making this possible

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