Adults benefit from brain tumour chemotherapy

Adults with certain types of brain tumour (high grade gliomas) may benefit from chemotherapy, according to recent research. A worldwide review of over 3,000 patients shows chemotherapy treatment increases life expectancy and improves survival for patients.

The review, conducted by the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit (CTU), found that adding chemotherapy to standard treatments pushed up life expectancy to around 12 months; 15% of patients were alive more than two years after treatment.

At present doctors treat high grade gliomas surgically. They cut out as much of the tumour as possible, and often follow surgery with a course of radiotherapy. Life expectancy after treatment, however, is low – about nine to 10 months. Moreover, only about 10% of patients live longer than two years.

The researchers, led by Lesley Stewart of the Meta-analysis Group at CTU, conclude that while chemotherapy is an effective treatment for the disease, it only has a modest impact of survival. “Whether chemotherapy is actually used is likely to depend on individual preferences of patients, their families and doctors,” says Dr Stewart. “Many patients are likely to live only a short time after completing their treatment and those given chemotherapy may experience some side effects from the treatment and/or have to spend longer in hospital. Nevertheless, our review will help people make choices about treatment options.”

Between 3,000 and 3,500 people in the UK – mostly children and those between 50 and 60 – are diagnosed with high grade gliomas each year. The researchers suggest that further trials should be carried out using newer types of chemotherapy. Trials should not only look at the effectiveness of treatments on the disease, the researchers stress, but they should also assess how treatments affect patients’ quality of life.