Glioblastoma is the most deadly form of brain cancer in adults. Now an experimental therapy is helping some patients survive years beyond expectations.
Mary Lee never thought she would see the birth of her grandson. The 65 year-old was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor called glioblastoma ten years ago. Doctors gave her 15-months to live. "I was devastated. I was thinking my kids were still in college, I haven't seen them graduate from college, I haven't seen anyone get married," Lee said.
Cedars Sinai Neurologist Dr. Keith Black removed Lee's golf ball-sized tumor. After radiation and chemotherapy, she was given an experimental vaccine as part of a 10 year study. Dr. Black says the immune-based therapy is tailor made to fight the patient's cancer, attacking the microscopic cells that chemotherapy and radiation leave behind.
"It's a way to teach the body's immune system how to recognize cancer cells, and go directly to the cancer to try to kill the cells and eradicate the tumor," Dr. Black said.
Sixteen glioblastoma patients were given three rounds of the vaccine. Nearly 40-percent of them survived more than eight years. Dr. Black says typically less than three-percent of people diagnosed with glioblastoma are alive after five years. "I've been working with this cancer for over 30 years and we did a lot of different studies, a lot of different treatments, you just don't see those types of responses," Dr. Black said.
Lee is one of the longest survivors. Her brain cancer is still in remission almost ten years after treatment. "I did not expect to be here that long, and I'm sure I would tell everybody the same thing -- it doesn't mean your life is going to be short. It can be done.