Advancing Care for Brain Cancer

The odds of getting a malignant brain tumor are less than 1 percent. Yet, if you or a family member happens to be among that small minority, the impact is powerful and devastating.

At Good Samaritan Hospital, a tumor board comprising neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists and other professionals routinely meets to develop a care plan for each person who has brain cancer.

“We have the surgical capabilities to do complex surgeries and a neuro intensive care unit to take care of people afterwards,” states Dr. Richard Curry. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy work to halt the spread of any remaining cancer cells.

The brain tumor care team also promotes communication and connection, actively seeking patient feedback to make improvements, hosting support groups for people with brain cancer, and bringing in social workers and financial counselors to offer guidance.

Although Dr. Curry sees progress being made in treating brain cancer, medical advances aren’t evolving as quickly as he’d like for his patients.

More Work to Be Done

Dr. Curry has been practicing in Cincinnati since 2012, after completing a fellowship in neuro-oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He specializes in cancer of the brain and spinal cord and sees a variety of primary brain tumors – cancers that originate in the brain. The most common is glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that invades normal brain tissue. Senator John McCain’s battle with glioblastoma put the national spotlight on this deadly disease in 2018.

According to Dr. Curry, progress in discovering new and better treatments for brain cancer has been slow compared to improvements in more common types of cancer, such as breast or lung cancer. Because the number of people with brain cancer is smaller, the amount of fund raising and research is less.

Even so, he notes, “Basic science [laboratory research] is advancing at a nice rate to teach us about the makeup of these tumors. Our clinical abilities are lagging behind, however. Since 2005, there have been only three newly approved chemotherapies for brain cancer.”

On the positive side, he has seen advances in surgeons’ ability to more precisely target and surgically remove a brain tumor. Dr. Curry also applauds the ability to use radiation therapy more precisely to target cancerous tissue in the brain and spare healthy tissue.

As doctors explore genetic testing and precision medicine to match the best treatment to a patient’s unique cancer cells, Dr. Curry says he hasn’t seen that working yet for brain cancer.

The Human Touch

What Dr. Curry does see working are the close bonds he and his team form with brain cancer patients and their families.

“We hope to establish long-term relationships as families navigate this challenging diagnosis. We hold their hands through every step of the way so they don’t feel alone,” Dr. Curry says.

The rewards for him are simple: “We meet wonderful people. They help all of us with appreciation for life. It helps us take stock of our own life and live a little bit better.”

He says even when a patient passes away, families continue to be very appreciative. That satisfying feeling keeps him coming back to work each day.

Tags Cancer , Innovation and Research , Neurology