Surgical removal of the entire tumor may extend the lives of patients with a rare and deadly type of brain cancer called brainstem high-grade gliomas, a new study suggests.
Researchers analyzed data from 103 patients in the United States who had either a biopsy (15%) or had surgery to remove part or all of the tumor (85%) between 1973 and 2015. Of those who had surgery, about 19% had total removal of their tumor.
Median survival after diagnosis was eight months for those who had biopsy; 11 months with partial tumor removal; and about 16 months for those whose tumor was completely removed. Median means half lived longer, half for a shorter time.
Survival among a small number of patients who had total surgical removal and other factors associated with longer survival -- such as younger age -- was up to four times longer than patients who had only biopsies.
The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center-led study was recently published online in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology.
"Knowing what these surgeries can do could help neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists and patients have a better sense of what to expect so we can move forward toward better standardized care for these rare and critical tumors," study leader Dr. Debraj Mukherjee said in a Hopkins news release. He's an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Hopkins.
About 10,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with high-grade gliomas each year. Only a small number of those tumors develop in the brainstem, which controls nearly all life-sustaining functions, including heart rate, breathing and consciousness.
Because of the brainstem's crucial role, treatment of brainstem gliomas had been limited to chemotherapy and radiation. However, surgery on these tumors has become possible in recent years.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on brain and spinal tumors.