This week marks Brain Cancer Action Week 2014.
Here is some information from the NSW Cancer Council:
Many people are still unaware that brain cancer is one of the most lethal yet understudied of all cancers. It is the leading cancer killer for young people under age 39 and children under 10, yet receives very little research funding.
Worryingly little is known about this disease, other than some devastating statistics:
- Not only is brain cancer the leading cause of cancer death for young people under the age of 39 and children under 10, it carries the highest financial burden of all cancers
- In its malignant form it is almost 100% fatal
- It is one of the most under-studied of all cancers
- Around 1600 people a year will be diagnosed with brain cancer in Australia, approximately 1200 will pass away
- One person is diagnosed with brain cancer every 6 hours in Australia, every 8 hours one will pass away
This is a cause very close to my heart. My mum has a stage IV glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Of course with different types of brain cancers there are different treatments. Here is what we have experienced with mum*:
Treatment starts with surgery, followed by six weeks of radiation (Monday – Friday), combined with chemotherapy, usually temozolomide. Once this stage is completed the patient starts multiple rounds of chemotherapy, usually only having a break if their blood counts are too low (which isn’t really a break). Radiation and chemotherapy often leaves the patient feeling awful including extreme nausea, severe headaches, constipation (due to anti-nausea medications), loss of appetite and hair loss.
If/when the tumor reoccurs extra surgery is considered. If possible, surgery is performed and followed by more chemotherapy, often a combination temozolomide and procarbazine.
If the tumor/s return and are deemed inoperable, the patient may start on fortnightly doses of avastin/bevacizumab to attack the tumor’s ability to grow new blood vessels in the hope of slowing down its growth. Chemotherapy, usually lomustine/CCNU may be used in conjunction.
During all of this, the patient will be on various dosages of dexamethasone to reduce edema in the brain. While it is a lifesaving drug, it is a nasty one. It often leads to mania and psychosis, rapid weight gain, swelling of the face and body, hot flushes and Cushing’s syndrome .
Patients will often also take anti-seizure medication, mood stabilisers, medication to help them sleep, anti-nausea drugs and pain killers.
Mum has also taken a holistic approach to her treatment including diet changes, juicing, acupuncture, massage and hypnotherapy.
Apologies if the above sounds daunting, but it truly is. Treatment is gruelling and a constant battle for survival. Hopefully through campaigns such as Brain Cancer Action Week we will move forward to better options and longer survival rates.
If you are a carer of someone with cancer, or a friend of carer, you might be interested in this article I wrote featured on Her Canberra. It covers some helpful tips/advice to get through such trying times.
*Please note: This is my ‘basic understanding’ explanation and I’m not a medical professional.