Past Articles:

Will it work for other cancers too?

Gliobalistoma is the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer. It can spread across the brain, bringing death as quickly as three to four months from diagnosis. Conventional treatment includes cutting out the growth, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy in pill form. These methods are harsh, however, and only prolong the person’s life by two months on average.

A new Israeli invention, which was presented at the World Federation of Neuro-Oncology conference in Switzerland, demonstrated a new form of treatment – creating an electric field that prolongs the life of these patients and prevents the cancer from growing. So far 5,000 patients have undergone this new treatment with positive results.

Dr. Rachel Grossman, Assistant Head of
Neuro-Surgery in Ichilov Hospital, explained that until now the ability to prolong the life of brain cancer patients was severely limited. This is because of a natural blood barrier in the brain. This barrier prevents the brain from contracting infections but also prevents most medications from entering. There’s also the fact that cancer tends to recur again and again, genetically mutating itself each time, creating immunity to the
previous medication or treatment. But with this new technology developed by Dr. Yoram Palti, the ailment is attacked from a different front altogether.

The helmet Dr. Palti developed creates an electric field that prevents cancer cells from successfully completing the process of splitting and thereby multiplying. As long as the electric field envelops the cancer it cannot grow. On the other hand, this same field does not harm healthy brain tissue and doesn’t hinder normal brain function. Dr. Aylon Kirson, the head of research and development at Novocure, the company developing the ‘Opton Helmet,’ have encouraging news. They say that treatment with the helmet has prolonged patients’ lives for over two years in 45% of cases and that many will live for five years or more. Sans helmet, only 30% would live past two years while on the more traditional treatments. Thanks to this new development, not everyone who contracts this formerly fatal illness will die from it.

The Opton Helmet uses electricity from batteries to create the electric field and must be worn at all times. When turning the helmet off, the electric filed ceases to exist, which enables the cancer cells to split and multiply. The helmet weighs 1.4 kilo (3 lbs.) and is attached to the head with wires and electrodes. The treatment is localized so, consequently, side effects are also localized. Most of the time they include skin irritation from the electrodes. Besides swimming, a person can do most any activity with the helmet on. The helmet is portable and visible but can be covered with a hat or kerchief. It’s recommended that the helmet be worn a minimum of 18 hours a day. Maintenance is simple enough. Patients can change the electrodes themselves twice a week, when they shampoo and bathe.

This helmet is approved by the FDA and
the company that manufactures it offers
tech-support around the clock. The helmet recently became available in Israel and is covered by private, improved insurance policies.

How does this treatment affect
the patient’s quality of life?

Initially, the helmet seems strange to many patients and there’s an emotional aspect to the patient publicly displaying his or her cancer. But the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages and most patients do choose to wear the helmet. Dr. Grossman says that patients who filled out quality of life questionnaires said their quality of life was greatly improved, even though the helmet felt a bit cumbersome on their heads. What’s more, it didn’t impair neurological function, as other treatments are liable to do.

Presently the possibility of using the helmet for other cancers is being investigated. Clinical trials are already showing positive results on various cancers including cancer of the pancreas, lungs, ovary, and more. There is also ongoing research being done to minimize the size and weight of the helmet and to use the helmet to prevent cancer from manifesting.