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Avera Medical Minute: A new way to fight brain cancer

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 12:41 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Oncologists who treat brain cancer have another option to provide their patients after chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Optune treatment is a wearable, FDA-approved device indicated to treat a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. It is portable and can be worn 18 hours per day.

When reoccurring headaches were affecting Michael Wolforth’s daily routine, he reached out to his doctor.

“I’m a person who never gets headaches, Finally went to the doctor the next week,” said Wolforth.

Michael was referred to Pierre for more tests.

“Before I even got back to Onida which is only 30 miles, they had me on the phone, letting me know which direction we needed to go already because he said he didn’t like the way things looked so ended up down in Sioux Falls,” said Wolforth.

The headaches were caused by a tumor in his brain, which was surgically removed. Michael’s wife Val has been by his side throughout the journey.

“Removed 90 plus percent of it which is a high, very high percentage of it,” said Val.

Chemo and radiation followed. Until recently, any other treatment was experimental. Avera Radiation Oncologist Dr. Andrew Figura told the Wolforths about a newly added guideline as a standard measure of care: Optune treatment.

“Wear a cap that’s specially designed based on the tumor. So we send this the imaging where the cancer is,” said Dr. Figura. “This kind of disrupts the growth cycle of these tumor cells.”

Optune treatment requires direct contact to the scalp, hair is removed and the electrodes are placed and worn 18 hours a day. Patients don’t feel the electrical frequency targeting the tumor-treating fields.

“As long as they’re tolerating it. And you see that there’s no growth of tumor or any changes there you continue with it,” said Dr. Figura.

Optune treatment is available anywhere, at any time.

“Even Michael, in a rural part of South Dakota, has access to this device. He doesn’t have to go to the big city or doesn’t have to go somewhere to get it,” said Dr. Figura.

The course of treatment helped to bring good news for Michael at his follow-up exam.

“I mean he’s done really well, you know, for the tumor that he’d had. And the biggest outcome I think you know was the last follow-up to scan looks pretty much normal that tumor that was there now isn’t there anymore,” said Dr. Figura.

Doctor Figura likes that there is another option for brain cancer patients, after chemo, radiation, and surgery.

“At the two-year mark, they were saying close to 50% of the people were still alive, if you use the device versus about 30%,” said Dr. Figura.

The support of Michael’s care team, along with those he loves, help make the difficult times, a little easier to bear.

“The support of the community, and friends and family to different support groups and things like that, knowing that you’re not alone,” said Val.

Dr. Figura says the only side effect his patients have reported is irritation to the skin.

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