Brain metastasis from breast cancer: Our research means better treatments (w/VIDEO)
October 17, 2014
| by Tami Dennis
A hallmark of cancer is that it doesn’t always limit itself to a primary location. It spreads. Breast cancer and lung cancer in particular are prone to spread, or metastasize, to the brain. Often the brain metastasis isn’t discovered until years after the initial diagnosis, just when patients were beginning to regain some sense of normalcy and control over their lives.
Like many patients, Joan Rose-Hall thought she had completely recovered from breast cancer. She thought she was past the treatment, past the fear. Then she begin to experience changes, small things really, in her daily routine.
“I noticed that I had difficulty concentrating, difficulty finding my words. I became slow on the keyboard,” she says in the video above. “I actually thought I was cracking up.”
Rose-Hall didn’t associate the changes with her previous diagnosis of breast cancer. Many people wouldn't. Instead, she went to see a psychiatrist. That psychiatrist referred her to City of Hope.
How most brain tumors develop
There, Rahul Jandial, M.D. and Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery, found a very large tumor in her occiptal lobe. Metastasis to the brain, says the neurosurgeon and scientist, is more than 10 times more common than brain tumors that begin in the brain, known as primary tumors. In fact, metastatic brain tumors occur in 20 to 40 percent of cancer patients. But only recently have doctors been able to treat brain metastasis effectively.
“A lot of what we're publishing, a lot of what we're working on, just wasn't known," says Jandial, pointing to a previously unmet need for his current research. Now, he says, "people with advanced cancer are living longer and longer."
Rose-Hall is proof of that.
"The feedback I got from everyone that I worked with at City of Hope were there were things that could be done," she says.
Today, not only is her tumor gone, her cells are enabling researchers to investigate potential new treatments for brain metastases. “I never expected to get my life back,” Rose-Hall says. But she did.
Now, with her help, doctors and researchers at City of Hope will be able to give more people their lives back. That is the research-treatment cycle at City of Hope.