Brain cancer is a life-threatening diagnosis, and in its most severe forms the life expectancy is measured in months. The Neuro-Oncology Program provides patients the best treatment options available and access to the latest clinical trials.
Most patients of the Neuro-Oncology Program’s clinic are referred there by a neurosurgeon after an initial visit to a hospital clinic or emergency room. Patients who have had surgery will be sent to the clinic to see a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist and given a treatment plan that may include chemotherapy or radiation, depending on the patient’s condition and the results of the surgery.
Dr. Scott Owen is a medical oncologist at The Neuro. He explains that chemotherapy forms the backbone of post surgery treatment, which can be supplemented in some cases with immunotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy. Immunotherapy stimulates the body’s immune system to attack the cancer, while antiangiogenic therapy is the delivery of drugs that block the growth of blood vessels that feed tumours.
“Medical oncologists are responsible for knowing about cancer so we can answer patients' questions about their disease,” he says. “We keep up to date on the best treatments for whatever cancer the patient may have, to be able to discuss options with them about different forms of treatment that they may wish to consider.”
Depending on the cancer and the patient’s condition, the radio oncologist may advise radiotherapy, which is the use of high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. In the case of brain cancer this is generally done after surgery to kill the cells that remain after the tumour is removed.
The Neuro’s oncology clinic has a Level 4 accreditation from the provincial government, the highest accreditation available. Clinics with this status have all members of a multidisciplinary team, and have to conduct research into new treatments and how to improve patient service.
Dr. Owen says patients at the clinic benefit from access to clinical trials, giving them a chance to receive the latest cancer treatments. Patients in clinical trials tend to have more medical attention, improving their outcomes. The staff work closely with members of The Neuro’s Clinical Research Unit (CRU), who manage more than 100 clinical trials from phase 1 to 4.
Right now, for example, The Neuro is the only Canadian site taking part in an international clinical trial of intraoperative radiotherapy: the delivery of radiation during a surgery to kill cancer cells before they grow back.
Dr. Owen meets the CRU staff on Wednesdays to go over patient files, making sure patients are getting the medication and attention they need to manage their condition.
“We go through, in a very systematic and efficient way, all that needs to be done for our patients in terms of monitoring any adverse events, prescribing and requesting treatments so that the pharmacy has them ready for the patients when they arrive,” he says.
The Neuro-Oncology Clinic sees about 3,000 patient visits a year. Its interdisciplinary team of 14 professionals, including surgeons, nurses, oncologists, rehabilitation therapists, and a social worker provide patient with the best care available.