Brain cancer patients keep their hair thanks to new radiation treatment
According to a study presented today in Denver at the 47th
Annual Meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology
and Oncology, new radiation techniques allow patients with brain
cancer to escape the previously unavoidable hair loss. The new
treatment allows patients to preserve quality of life while
simultaneously controlling their cancer.
For most cancer patients whose disease has spread to the brain,
whole brain radiotherapy is the first, best treatment option.
Whole brain radiotherapy uses two radiation beams on each side
of the head to target the tumor. Unfortunately, these radiation
beams also kill hair follicles, causing patients to lose their
hair. This hair loss coupled with the disease itself is often
traumatic for patients, with negative psychological effects.
To counteract these negative effects, doctors are experimenting
with new types of radiation to see if other treatments can effectively
treat cancer while preventing hair loss.
In the study released today, researchers worked with 10 patients
with stage IV cancer that had spread to the brain. Doctors in
the study improved upon the whole brain radiotherapy by using
intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT allowed doctors
to better target the cancer by controlling the intensity and
shape of each beam. This more targeted treatment spared more
healthy tissues (including hair follicles) thereby significantly
reducing the amount of hair loss.
Four weeks after the IMRT ended, half of the patients in the
study reported no noticeable hair loss, while the other half
reported only slightly noticeable hair loss. Other effects of
whole brain radiotherapy (such as a rash on the scalp or behind
the ears) were also virtually eliminated using the IMRT. In
the short term, follow-up has revealed positive results; overall
survival rate is 100 percent, and only one patient has seen
a progression of cancer.
Researchers believe the results of the study will encourage
more doctors to consider using IMRT to treat cancer that has
spread to the brain. Todd Scarbrough, M.D., lead author of the
study and a radiation oncologist at the MIMA Cancer Center in
Melbourne, Florida, is especially hopeful the study will help
improve the quality of life for cancer patients. “Although
hair loss may seem trivial, losing one’s hair can be difficult
for a patient who is already depressed from the diagnosis and
the strain of treatments.”