The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new device for the treatment of brain cancer. The device is called the NovoTTF and is manufactured by NovoCure. TTF stands for tumor treating fields. It is a non-invasive device that utilizes electrical energy fields to battle cancer. There is no other cancer treatment like it out there today.
The FDA approved the NovoTTF to treat adults with aggressive glioblastoma multiforme, a common form of brain cancer, which has recurred or progressed despite chemotherapy and radiation treatment. This type of tumor is extremely resistant to traditional cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The FDA cautions that this new technology should only be utilized when other traditional protocols have failed.
Tumors grow when cancer cells are allowed to divide, creating more cancer cells. The NovoTTF weighs about six pounds and has four electrodes which are attached to the patient’s head. A white, bandage-like head covering is worn to protect the electrodes. Electrical signals are sent through the electrodes, creating electrical fields that can slow down or even reverse tumor growth by interrupting the cancer cell’s division process. Normal cells are not affected by the device.
The NovoTTF was approved for use in the United States after only a single trial. The study was based on 237 patients in both Europe and the United States. Participants had been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer and traditional treatments had been ineffective in treating their cancer. They were divided into two groups; one group was given chemotherapy and the other group used the NovoTTF. The latter group was connected to the device 20 hours each day.
Although the study reported a similar overall survival rate for patients in both groups, the FDA did note that there were some perks to utilizing the new device. When surveyed, the NovoTTF patients stated they felt they had a better quality of life. The battery-powered device is portable and can be carried in a shoulder bag, allowing participants to receive treatment while continuing on with their day to day life. Additionally, while they did report side effects such as scalp irritation, headaches, and convulsions, they did not experience the debilitating side effects of severe nausea, hair loss and fatigue reported by the chemotherapy patients.
Glioblastoma tumors are the deadliest form of brain cancer and affect about 10,000 people each year. Most people succumb to the disease within five years of being diagnosed and some in as little as six months, depending on the severity of the tumor. The NovoTTF gives patients an option for a treatment with a better quality of life. A new trial is being conducted which includes both brain and lung cancer patients.