YOUR HEALTH: A new device gives precious added days to some cancer patients

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina – It's one of the most lethal cancers and it affects about 20-thousand Americans a year.

Glioblastoma is an aggressive, fast-growing brain tumor. while there are treatments for glioblastoma, there is no cure.

"I started having headaches," remembered Ashley Laton.

When she had severe headaches last July, it never crossed her mind that it was cancer.

"The only thing I was thinking about was I'm a very single mom to an eight-year old that can't be without me."

Ashley was diagnosed with glioblastoma or G-B-M: a very aggressive tumor that originates in the brain.

The standard treatment is surgery to remove the tumor followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

"Surgery is not curative by any means because the tumor has already put down roots or tentacles throughout the brain," said neurosurgeon Dr. Simon Khagi.

The prognosis is grim: just 16 to 18 months to live.

But Dr. Simon Khagi, the director of the Brain Tumor program at the University of North Carolina says this device is changing that.

Patients wear Optune on their head.

It generates an electrical field to stop cancer cells from dividing.    A five-year study found it extended survival by an extra five months, when added to chemotherapy.

"Five months is potentially a birthday, a graduation," said Dr. Khagi.

Patients wear the device at least 18 hours a day.

NEW RESEARCH:   Penn Medicine has established the newest team in the Abramson Cancer Center focused on Glioblastoma.   The team will investigate new immune therapies, most notably ones that engineer patient's T cells, the cells that act on behalf of the immune system, to attack tumor cells.   The world's first gene-based cancer therapy was pioneered at Penn Medicine and it became the nation's first FDA-approved personalized cellular therapy for cancer in August 2017.   In addition to immunotherapy, the Abramson Cancer Center is equipped with more traditional treatments along with new innovations such as TumorGlow and proton therapy.

Dr. Khagi found out firsthand what it's like to wear optune when Ashley hooked him up at a 5-K to raise money for brain cancer research.

"It helped me understand their struggles a little bit better."

Ashley is hopeful for a cure so she can continue spending precious time with her daughter Jordyn.

"That is my hope, my prayer, my wish, my everything."

Ashley and her daughter are planning a month-long trip to Europe in the spring.

And she's taking her Optune with her.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.