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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

She's attending first grade, and doing very well: Experimental treatment for a malignant brain tumor

Melanie Joy McDaniel was 9 months old in 2002 when her parents faced an agonizing decision. She had already had two operations for an ependymoma – malignant, progressive brain tumor - and doctors could not be sure they had removed all of the cancer. She needed more treatment, but standard chemotherapy offered little hope in exchange for its harsh side effects. And yet her parents knew that if they did nothing, the odds were high that the terminal cancerous tumor would return.

Doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston offered another option: an experimental treatment. Melanie's parents took a gamble, and signed her up. "It won't save her, but it may help other people," said Paul McDaniel, her father.

Recently, her father wrote to NY Times writer Denise Grady, "Melanie is now 7 years old, attending first grade, and doing very well. The doctors do not see any residual tumor in her brain. Their original diagnosis was that her tumor had no known cure."

The developer of the treatment, Dr. Judah Folkman, passed away on January 14. He used drugs strictly to fight the process by which tumors form new blood vessels to feed themselves ("angiogenesis"). The drugs, given orally in small frequent doses, included Celebrex, thalidomide, and two other cancer drugs. The approach is called metronomic, low-dose or antiangiogenic chemotherapy.

Advice to cancer patients: Remember that some experimental treatments really do save lives.

Read another brain tumor survivor’s story.

Thanks to Denise Grady for her source article in today's NY Times.

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