Advances in the science of treating brain tumors are helping medical professionals better understand the underlying biology of these growths. As more is learned, diagnostics, including genetic testing, are helping patients achieve better treatment options and better outcomes.

New developments

Last year, the World Health Organization reclassified brain tumors to include their genetic information. This reclassification will lead to better options for patients, says Elizabeth Wilson, president and CEO of the American Brain Tumor Association in Chicago.

“Some of the benefits of the reclassifications include improved tailoring of patient therapy, better classification for clinical trials and a more accurate prognosis,” she explains. These changes come as metastatic brain tumors are on the rise, and more effective cancer treatments are prolonging life for survivors and giving original cancer cells more opportunity to spread there.

As a result, Wilson says, “There is a pressing need for all cancer survivors to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a metastatic brain tumor and of the latest treatment options available.”

Treatment options             

To treat these tumors, surgery remains a mainstay, with improvements coming from computer-guided, intra-operative brain mapping procedures. Targeted molecular therapies can also be used against specific tumor mutations that cause tumors to grow, and immunotherapy is another approach that uses the body’s own immune system to fight brain tumors.

'“Patients need to ask a lot of questions and should feel empowered to seek second opinions.”'

Wilson adds that research is underway to identify genetic tests for brain tumor biomarkers that would indicate the presence of a tumor before it’s symptomatic or has the chance to grow.

A greater focus, she says, is on genotyping an already-diagnosed tumor to inform the best course of treatment based on the presence of specific biomarkers: “Genotyping reveals the existence of biomarkers that singly or in combination are known to appear in specific tumor types.”

Empowering patients

Wilson urges patients and their families to learn what these developments may mean for them and make sure they’re informed about all available treatment options, including asking if genotyping is available and, if not, whether the hospital can refer them to a center where the test is performed.

“Patients need to ask a lot of questions and should feel empowered to seek second opinions,” she says. “They should discuss treatment options with their doctor early on to inform their decisions throughout the trajectory of the disease.”