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Northwestern Medicine Neuro-Oncologist Discovers Wearable Medical Device Increases Lifespan for Patients with Brain Cancer

CHICAGO, IL – In early April, Northwestern Medicine neuro-oncologist Roger Stupp, MD, presented at the American Academy of Cancer Research (AACR) the results of a five-year phase III randomized clinical trial for a medical device that delivers alternating electrical fields in addition to standard temozolomide chemotherapy for the treatment of newly diagnosed glioblastoma (GBM), a deadly cancer that affects approximately 700,000 people in the U.S. and an average patient survival rate of 12-14 months.

The final results from the trial of the medical device, called Optune, finds the two year survival rate increased from 30 to 43 percent for patients treated with the device in combination with chemotherapy. Furthermore, five-year survival rate increased from five to 13 percent.
“When I started treating patients with GBM 20 years ago, the majority of patients died in less than one year and long-term survival was nearly absent,” said principal investigator Stupp, who is the associate director of strategic initiatives at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Now, we see a meaningful improvement in survival at two years and beyond. With the combination of Optune and chemotherapy, one out of seven patients is living longer than five years.”

Optune is a skull-worn device placed on a shaved head through four adhesive patches connecting to wires that transmit alternating low-intensity electrical fields to the tumor causing the cancerous cells to die. The research has shown that using Optune for at least 18 hours a day provides the best response for treatment.

From July 2009 to November 2014, 695 individuals newly diagnosed with glioblastoma were enrolled in the study; 466 patients were randomly assigned TTFields, low-intensity electric fields, delivered by the Optune medical device and chemotherapy and 229 were randomly assigned to receive chemotherapy alone.

Joyce Endresen, 52, a patient at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, enrolled in the clinical trial after a physician friend recommended she look into the “out of the box” treatment option. She was randomly assigned to the experimental arm of the trial and has used Optune for nearly two years.

Endresen was diagnosed with GBM three years ago after spending a week with her ailing mother in California who was also undergoing treatment for another type of cancer at the time.

“I guess it’s true what they say about bad things happening all at once,” said Endresen. “When it rains, it pours and that definitely was the case for me.”

Her mother passed away December 5, 2014, the same day Endresen was diagnosed with GMB.

“It was terrible shocking time. For the first few months, my husband and I were devastated. Just crying a lot,” said Endresen. “Years later after using the device, I have found renewed hope and a new outlook on my treatment for GBM.”

Endresen often gets asked what is on her head by kids. She tells them “it’s my superhero cap.”

Endresen and her husband, Hal, reside in Bartlett, Ill., with their dog, Yoda. They try to travel as much as possible and have already visited places including Costa Rica, London and South Africa.

Stupp adds “I believe this trial establishes an entirely different approach to cancer treatment with minimal toxicity which may be well suited for combination with conventional treatments for many other cancer types.”

Northwestern Memorial currently has five neuro-oncologists certified to prescribe Optune: Karan Dixit, MD, Sean Grimm, MD, Priya Kumthekar, MD, Rimas Lukas, MD and Stupp. The physicians are part of the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute, a comprehensive program that merges clinical research with medical and surgical treatment for brain and spinal tumor patients. The Institute offers leading edge clinical care while also providing the resources and support necessary for patients and their families to meet the challenges of living with a brain tumor. The Institute is part of the Lurie Cancer Center and is a collaboration between Northwestern Memorial and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about neurosurgery at Northwestern Medicine.

For more information about Northwestern Medicine, visit nm.org/about-us/northwestern-medicine-newsroom/media-relations/about-our-health-system.