Jayne Crouch was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer, in March 2014. Doctors said her best course of action was chemotherapy, but even then, the chances of surviving two years were 2 to 3 percent.
“They kind of consider after two years it’s a miracle or whatever,” said her husband, Carl Crouch.
Nearly two years later Jayne, 53, is still alive thanks to a happy accident.
While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, Carl started looking through a medical magazine and came across an ad for trials of a non-invasive form of cancer treatment. The treatment uses electromagnetic waves to disrupt the reproduction of cancer cells, essentially stopping the spread of the cancer. The device was created by Novocure and is called Optune.
“It basically disrupts the mitosis,” said Maciej Mrugala, a neuro-oncologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and one of the lead researchers on the study. “Being able to disrupt this process is very desirable, and that’s exactly what this therapy does.”
On Tuesday a study published by the Journal of American Medical Association outlined the effectiveness of the treatment.
“There is no question that this treatment works,” Mrugala said.
Crouch was one of 695 patients who undertook the study. The study looked at patients with glioblastoma who were being treated with both chemotherapy and Optune. The group was then compared to a population that only underwent chemotherapy.
According to Mrugala, the overall survival rate of patients using both Optune and chemotherapy was 20.5 months. Those patients only using chemotherapy lived 15.6 months.
“Of course this might sound that this is not a lot of time, but you have to keep in mind that this is a very deadly disease,” he said.
The treatment itself is unusual partially because it’s non-invasive, Mrugala said.
“This is very new to a lot of patients,” he said, “and not everybody is comfortable with using it.”
The success of the trials will likely pave the way for wider use, Mrugala said.
Crouch can testify to the ease of the treatment. The Optune device rests on her head much like a knit cap. The machine emits wave-like electric fields known as Tumor Treating Fields. A machine that the patient carries with them in a messenger-style bag powers the device. The whole thing weighs about 10 pounds, Crouch said.
“I just have to commit to carrying this backpack around 24/7 and I have to keep my head shaved,” Crouch said.
It’s recommended that patients wear the device 18 hours a day. Crouch said the device has allowed her to stay active and engaged.
“We’re constantly outside doing activities even with this Novacure device,” Carl said.
As part of the trials the Crouchs traveled to Seattle once a month. Novacure paid for their board and lodging while Crouch underwent a variety of tests.
“They never use the word remission because they know it’s always going to come back,” she said. “It’s just a matter of when. So this device is really just kind of holding it off, if you will.”
The device was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Mrugala said that the success of this study could lead to wider use of Optune treatment, even for other types of cancer.
On Tuesday the Crouchs traveled to Seattle for an MRI where she will learn her latest prognosis. Despite the seriousness of her disease, both Carl and Crouch remain upbeat.
“If she bosses me around I know she’s having a good day,” Carl said.
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