Brain cancer has been making headlines lately, with Carrie Bickmore’s recent speech at the Logie Awards and subsequent beanie campaign doing wonders for awareness. But historically brain cancer has hardly registered in the public consciousness.
It is an insidious disease which doesn’t discriminate, but the bleak reality of the statistics is not well-known. Very few people realise that brain cancer kills more children in Australia than any other disease and more people under 40 than any other cancer. But terrible as this is, brain cancer is not a “young person’s” disease. In fact, in terms of the incidence and mortality, over-60s account for approximately half of all diagnoses and deaths each year.
In people aged over 60 there are 874 cases diagnosed each year on average and 788 deaths. That’s out of a total of approximately 1600 diagnoses and 1200 deaths. This is partly because people are living longer, extending the ‘over 60s’ age bracket.
Symptoms can vary depending on the nature and location of the tumour, but may include:
- Headaches lasting longer than 6 weeks (to rule out migraine and cluster headaches)
- Poor balance and difficulty walking
- Abnormal eye movement and double vision
- Reduced concentration and difficulty with speech
- Loss of sensation and movement
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People may experience one or more of these symptoms and the symptoms may get worse over time.
Anyone experiencing any of these signs or symptoms should seek medical attention. It is important to get checked out quickly as brain cancer can be extremely aggressive and grow very quickly, so early diagnosis may make it easier for surgeons to operate. Tumours also have fewer genetic mutations in the earlier stages of development, which may make it easier to test new treatments effectively through clinical trials.
When it comes to treatment options they are limited and usually involve surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which all come with significant side effects and are harder for older people to tolerate. Part of the challenge of treating brain cancer is finding chemotherapy drugs that can cross the blood-brain barrier, the body’s natural defence to prevent damaging entities from getting to the brain, meaning there are limited chemotherapy options for patients.
Consequently, only 20 per cent of people will survive brain cancer for five years; a statistic that, for 30 years, has barely changed. And that doesn’t include cases of metastatic brain cancer, which have spread from primary cancers elsewhere in the body.
This is why people living with brain cancer desperately need new treatments, not just to extend survival but also so those survivors can have a better quality of life with fewer side effects. But there is a solution and there is hope; researchers are making breakthroughs and are on the brink of many more.
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At Cure Brain Cancer we are funding innovative research in areas such as immunotherapy and precision medicine, to find the right, tailored treatment for the right patient. We want to ensure that every single child and adult diagnosed with brain cancer can access new treatments through quality clinical trials in Australia.
Partnering with the international research community, this vision will become a reality.
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