Mimi Murphy's Medical Breakthroughs: Eliminating Brain Tumors

Medical Breakthroughs
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Of the more than one million cases of cancer diagnosed each year in the United States, nearly 200,000 will involve the cancer spreading to the brain. Cancer that has spread is difficult to treat, but tumors in the brain are especially hard as radiation to the brain can only be given once. Now doctors are making that one-time treatment more effective.

Nine years ago, Roberta Hanley was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy, but it wasn't enough.

"Three years later, it returned with a vengeance. It spread to my lungs and to my bones," Hanley said.

Aggressive therapy and a bone marrow transplant kept her cancer-free until two years ago.

"The cancer returned and it came back in my brain this time, which I thought for sure, 'I'm gone,'" said Hanley.

Then Hanley met Dino Stea, M.D., Ph.D., and received a new drug, called RSR-13. It delivers oxygen to tumors just before radiation.

"Radiation is like a flame and without oxygen, the flame extinguishes," said Dr. Stea, a radiation oncologist at Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson.

With RSR-13, the radiation works better.

"All we're doing now is trying to make that radiation go a step further to get more bang for the buck," Dr. Stea said.

It appears to be working. Sixty patients received the drug and survived 50-percent longer than controls.

Without the drug, Hanley was given six months to live. That was two years ago, and doctors tell her there's still no sign of the cancer.

"I'm alive and I'm going to take each day, one day, one night at a time," said Hanley.

A trial of nearly 600 patients was just completed and results are expected by May 2003. Dr. Stea says if that trial shows similar results, he thinks the drug could be available to the public soon thereafter.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Sylvia Lopez
Research Nurse
Department of Radiation Oncology
Arizona Cancer Center
(520) 694-4606