In a breakthrough for the way brain cancer is diagnosed and monitored, a team of researchers, lead by Anna M. Krichevsky, PhD, of the Center of Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), have demonstrated that brain tumors can be reliably diagnosed and monitored without surgery. Previously, an accurate non-surgical test to detect brain tumors was unavailable and methods of monitoring a brain tumor’s progression or response to treatment were not reliable. The results from this pilot study are published in the online edition of Neuro-Oncology.
“We are excited about the potential that this test has to ease the process of detecting and monitoring brain tumors,” said Krichevsky. “The test needs to be further developed before it is used in a clinical setting, but I expect it could be particularly valuable for patients who are not surgical candidates due to the tumor’s size or location, or due to an underlying medical condition.”
In a study of 118 patients with different types of brain cancers, researchers showed that microRNA profiling of cerebrospinal fluid can be used to determine the presence of glioblastoma, the most common and lethal type of brain tumor.
The test utilizes microRNAs, tiny RNA molecules that provide excellent biomarkers for various conditions, and whose levels can be accurately measured in body fluids simply and inexpensively. The same process can be used to detect the presence of cancer that started in another part of the body and spread to the brain, and furthermore, the process can also be used to monitor the tumor as it is treated.
A patent related to the test is pending. The study was funded by National Institutes of Health grants [R01CA138734-01A1, K08CA124804, and ARRA 3P30CA023100-25S8, the Sontag Foundation and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.
What is a brain tumor?
A brain tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue in which some cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, apparently unregulated by the mechanisms that control normal cells. The growth of a tumor takes up space within the skull and interferes with normal brain activity. A tumor can cause damage by increasing pressure in the brain, by shifting the brain or pushing against the skull, and by invading and damaging nerves and healthy brain tissue. The location of a brain tumor influences the type of symptoms that occur. This is because different functions are controlled by different parts of the brain. Brain tumors rarely metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body outside of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord.
Some tumor types are more common in children than in adults. When childhood brain tumors occur in adults, they often occur in a different part of the brain than in children. Although most primary tumors attack member of both sexes with equal frequency, some, such as meningiomas, occur more frequently in women, whereas others, such as medulloblastomas, more commonly affect boys and young men.
The prognosis for brain tumor patients is as individual as the patients themselves. Your doctors will help you understand the possible repercussions of your specific tumor.
What is the difference between a primary brain tumor and a metastatic (secondary) brain tumor?
Primary brain tumors originate in the brain itself. Primary brain tumors do not spread from the brain to other parts of the body except in rare cases. Pathologists classify primary brain tumors into two groups: glial tumors (gliomas) and nonglial tumors. Gliomas are composed of glial cells, which include astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, ependymal cells, Schwann cells, microglia, and satellite cells. Nonglial tumors develop on or in structures within the brain, such as nerves, blood vessels, and glands.
Metastatic or secondary brain tumors begin as cancer in another part of the body. Some of the cancer cells may be carried to the brain by the blood or may spread from adjacent tissue. The site where the cancerous cells originated is referred to as the primary cancer. Metastatic brain tumors are often referred to as brain metastases or lesions. Metastatic brain tumors are the most common brain tumors. Because people are surviving primary cancers for longer periods of time, there has been an increase in metastatic lesions.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital