PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Fighting a deadly brain cancer with electric frequencies in a skull cap might sound like science fiction. But doctors say it’s helping patients live longer.
Lynn Oxenberg’s ordeal started with a headache that wouldn’t go away and then there was a seizure followed by surgery. Oxenberg now has her life back with the help of an FDA-approved device.
“It’s a miracle I’m still here,” Oxenberg said.
It’s not something glioblastoma patients usually say.
But Oxenberg, who was diagnosed with the deadly brain cancer a year-and-a-half ago, has plenty to dance about. She’s dancing and feeling good again because of a high-tech skull cap she wears.
“All my scarves I used to wear around my neck, now I wear around my head,” Oxenberg said.
The device is called Optune, which delivers electrical fields to keep microscopic cancer cells from returning after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“There are certain molecules that cancer cells require to devoid effectively to grow and those molecules have electrical charge,” Penn Medicine Dr. Stephen Bagley said, “and when you apply the electrical fields to those molecules, they’re unable to form in the way they need to result in cell division.”
Bagley says there is no cure for glioblastoma, but Optune can prolong life without damaging surrounding brain cells.
“When this came out,” Bagley said, “we thought it sounded like science fiction.”
But the reality is, MRIs show there have been no cancer recurrence for Oxenberg, who lives in Elkins Park.
Optune has to be worn at least 18 hours per day, and it’s hooked up to a heavy battery that’s worn in a backpack. It’s a set-up that Oxenberg has well disguised.
“I think it’s a life saver or it’s a life-extender, let’s say,” Oxenberg said. “It’s a no-brainer for me, no pun intended.”
Oxenberg says she feels nothing from Optune.
For her, the hardest part was shaving her head.
“I was all about my hair,” Oxenberg said. “People stopped me on the street, saying how lovely hair. I thought I’m gonna lose hair. You know what, hair is totally overrated.”
Oxenberg is focused on her family and helping others with brain cancer.
The Optune device costs about $21,000 per month and is covered by some insurance.
The technology is now being tested to treat other cancers.