Brain cancer may be one of the most-frightening diagnoses people can receive, striking at the very center of who we are as individuals. Further, it often develops over time, causing no symptoms until it’s already advanced.
Malignant, or cancerous, tumors that begin in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma and other types of cancer commonly spread to the brain as well. When this happens, the tumors are called metastatic brain tumors. Secondary tumors can also prove fatal.
But researchers are making progress against these cancers.
Here, Behnam Badie , M.D., director of the Brain Tumor Program and chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, discusses advances in treatment and research in brain cancer, including the installation of the Monteris Medical system, an MRI-guided laser that contours neurosurgical lesions, making City of Hope the only institution in Los Angeles that uses this groundbreaking technology.
What kind of technology is on the horizon for brain cancer treatment?
One technology we are looking forward to is the upcoming implementation of a neurosurgical ablation device that provides controlled therapy for brain lesions that are difficult to reach and treat. This tool, developed by Monteris Medical, will allow us to introduce the probe into the tumor and destroy it without having to perform a surgical operation or craniotomy.
This new system complements our own work, and will help transition the next generation of technology that is currently being developed at City of Hope.
Are there any risk factors related to brain cancer?
Unfortunately, we do not understand the risk factors related to brain cancer yet. What we do know is there are common risk factors, such as past exposure to radiation, that could factor into the development of brain tumors. The question of cell phones causing cancer often comes up. There has not been any conclusive data that shows cell phones directly promote brain tumors, but I err on the side of caution and warn my patients to minimize their use of cell phones. Younger adults especially should keep their phones away from their bodies to limit their exposure to radiation.
Many of my patients ask, “Why me?” And I usually don’t have the answer. I go back and review the patient’s family history of cancer, but the risk of developing a genetic brain tumor is extremely small.
How do diet and nutrition promote brain health?
Nutrition and exercise play a major role in neurogenesis – the development of new neurons. The combination of a good diet with exercise is a common recommendation for everybody and helps to promote cancer prevention.
What is the most surprising fact that newly diagnosed patients learn?
The most surprising fact is that they have a brain tumor, since brain tumors are usually asymptomatic until they reach a significant size. Patients feel healthy and well up to a certain point then suddenly there can be a various onset of symptoms such as headaches, seizures and brain irritations that lead to the diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. Because there are no symptoms early on, the brain tumor can advance by the time it is discovered.
On a personal note, of what research are you most proud?
Personally, I am very excited about all the research we are working on here at City of Hope, but I am most proud of a new device we are designing that will remove brain tumors while at the same time give us the opportunity to inject drugs and nanoparticles at the site of the tumor.
Learn more about brain tumor research and treatment at City of Hope.
Also, learn about new research on how breast cancer spreads to the brain.