Senator John McCain passed away recently after battling brain cancer. Most forms of brain cancer are aggressive and difficult to treat because medications cannot reach the brain directly, but Sen. McCain had glioblastoma, essentially the worst of the worst. It’s quite rare and almost always fatal. Median survival for patients with glioblastoma is 14 months. Neurosurgeon Dr. Clark Chen says that glioblastoma disproportionally affects people who have superior cognitive skills. In a calendar coincidence, McCain died on the same date as Sen. Edward Kennedy, who also succumbed to glioblastoma.
Neurotransmitters that are involved in higher cognitive tasks are also included in the growth and spread of glioblastoma. Currently, there is no cure and very few effective treatments for glioblastoma, but research into immunotherapy is the most promising avenue so far. If a patient’s immune system can be manipulated to fight cancer cells the way it works on infections and viruses, there could be significant progress made towards drug therapies that could be injected directly into the brain at the tumor site.