Thanks to Dedee Culley from 2 Leaf Nurses for sharing her wisdom and expertise!
May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month. While there are several types of brain cancer, the numbers are not nearly as high as those suffering more common cancers, so there is far less attention and funding to find a cure. But, it’s still a potent and tragic affliction.
In the United States, about 24,000 people (about 1% of the population) get diagnosed every year with a primary cancerous tumor of the brain. Males tend to have higher rates of primary malignant tumors while females have higher rates of non-malignant tumors.
The highest incidence of brain tumors has been found in North America, Australia, and Northern Europe, with the lowest incidence in Africa.
There are no survivors of malignant brain tumors. It always comes back more aggressively and will overtake the brain, leading to death.
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of malignant brain cancer, and the numbers of cases are on the rise, currently at about 15,000 each year.
- 50% of those diagnoses will die within the first 12 months of diagnosis and a large number of those don't survive longer than 6 months.
- The average lifespan for someone diagnosed with a glioblastoma is 15-17 months.
- Only 5% of those diagnosed with a glioblastoma live longer than 5 years.
There is nothing specific one can do to prevent a brain tumor other than avoiding environmental hazards such as smoking and excessive exposure to radiation. Many patients have never smoked or had these exposures, and most physicians agree there is far too little research-based evidence to know what to do for prevention.
The standard of care is to perform a craniotomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
Craniotomy: This involves cutting through the skull to get to the tumor. Craniotomies are not always safe and aren’t always recommended. The primary purpose is to obtain a biopsy so that the medical team has the best understanding of the type of cancer being dealt with, and how to respond. It’s important that patients/caregivers KNOW the full extent of the risks and only allow neuro-oncology surgeons to perform the surgery.
Radiation: Radiation generally requires 20-30 sessions over a period of 4-6 weeks depending on the location and size of the tumor as well as the ability of the patient to tolerate the procedure.
Chemotherapy: Chemo is a challenge because most drugs do not cross the blood-brain barrier and cannot impact the tumor. Temador, the most commonly used drug, is taken orally, and given at home.
Immunosuppression Therapy: This is another option that some are able to use depending on the type of brain cancer.
As much as this information can be overwhelming, there are organizations working hard to help caregivers and patients navigate this dreadful journey. When meeting with medical professionals, it’s always important to have a third party accompany the patient/caregiver, as the information is in depth, overwhelming, and emotional - given the gravity and prognosis. Even folks like myself, with years of experience as nurses and physicians, say that this is a critical aspect we don’t often consider or communicate.
There is research indicating that cannabis can help as an alternative or adjunct therapy to preserve quality of life. Some newer research indicates cannabis might also reduce tumors. Both THC and CBG have been included in this research, and they don’t impede the effects of radiation or chemotherapy.
If you, a loved one, or friend find yourself facing a brain cancer diagnosis, available resources include:
- Mayo Clinic-Rochester, MN, Cleveland Clinic, and MD Anderson are excellent facilities and are staffed with neuro-oncology surgeons as well as a full team of specialists required for additional therapy and support.
- Glioblastoma Support Network is wonderful for caregivers needing assistance and support.