Health Watch: Battling brain tumors with Optune

CHAPEL HILL, N.C -- It's one of the most lethal cancers, and it affects about 20,000 Americans a year. Glioblastoma is an aggressive, fast-growing brain tumor. While there are treatments for glioblastoma, there is no cure. Now see how new technology is helping patients live longer.

"I started having headaches," said Ashley Laton.

When Laton had severe headaches last July, it never crossed her mind that it was cancer.

"The only thing I was thinking about was I'm a very single mom to an eight-year old that can't be without me," Laton said.

Laton was diagnosed with glioblastoma or GBM: a very aggressive tumor that originates in the brain. The standard treatment is surgery to remove the tumor followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

"Surgery is not curative by any means because the tumor has already put down roots or tentacles throughout the brain," said Simon Khagi, MD, Assistant Professor in Medicine & Neurosurgery and Director of the UNC Brain Tumor Program at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The prognosis is grim. Just 16 to 18 months to live. But Dr. Khagi, the director of the Brain Tumor program at the University of North Carolina, says this device is changing that!

"The newest technology for the treatment of glioblastoma is the use of Optune," Dr. Khagi said.

Patients wear Optune on their head. It generates an electrical field to stop cancer cells from dividing.

"When the cell is confused and doesn't know which direction to divide into that further complicates the entire process," he explained.

A five-year study found it extended survival by an extra five months, when added to chemotherapy.

"Five months is potentially a birthday, a graduation," Dr. Khagi said.

Patients wear the device at least 18 hours a day. Dr. Khagi found out firsthand what it's like to wear Optune when Laton hooked him up at a 5k to raise money for brain cancer research!

"It helped me understand their struggles a little bit better," Dr. Khagi said.

Laton is hopeful for a cure so she can continue spending precious time with her daughter Jordyn.

"That is my hope, my prayer, my wish, my everything," Laton shared.

Laton and her daughter are planning a month-long trip to Europe in the spring. And she's taking her Optune with her. Dr. Khagi says more insurance companies are covering the device. For more information on Optune or glioblastoma please visit www.optune.com or www.brainsforthecure.org