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Electrode skullcap shows promise fighting brain cancer

AUSTIN (KXAN) – 14,000 Americans will lose their battle this year with brain cancer. Now, there is a new weapon to fight it.

The Optune is an electrode skullcap that sends signals to the brain around the clock, all day, every day. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011, it is just now seeing wider use, and a promising new study shows that patients who wear the Optune device have a 50 percent better chance of survival.

“You realize the type of malignant brain cancer I was diagnosed with is a very tough battle to fight,” says Jim Vasek, 46, a longtime engineering manager at Freescale and father of two.

A seizure behind the wheel drove Vasek off the road in January. After his diagnosis, a surgery in February removed the tumor. Since then, Vasek has gone through radiation, chemo and now the Optune skullcap. He wears it 24 hours a day, seven days a week-as its mild electric signals prevent the tumor cells from dividing and multiplying.

Being a tech guy, Vasek turned to more technology.

“I figured, why not try it. It is the third prong in a three prong attack. It came perfectly natural to me to think well it’s a technological solution so lets give it a try.”

While Vasek was open to the technology, the 10 pound cap did take some time to get used to.

“It took awhile getting used to carrying it. Getting in and out of cars without getting caught up in the wires, then walking around in public with it.”

Dr. Morris D. Groves, director of the Austin Brain Tumor Center at Texas Oncology says of wearing the pack, “The more often the better. The general concept is if a patient can wear this at least 18 hours a day, they’re going to get the full benefit. Less than that it tends to fall off.”

Vasek goes to work at Freescale every day now, visits the doctor once a month for chemo and the occasional brain scan. All he misses out on are his daily jogs. He will shed the Optune when the tumor appears gone for good.

“That’s a nice problem to have. To get to the point where your scan looks good, you feel good, you’re a little tired of wearing this. We just take that on a month by month basis,” says Dr. Groves.

Vasek adds with a determined look, “My attitude is: I’m going to wear it as long as I possibly can. It is a way for me to continue to fight the battle.”

700,000 Americans are living with some form of brain tumor and 70,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. It is the leading cancer killer of patients under 20 and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in adults. Regardless of age, gender or race, it does not discriminate. It can strike anyone at anytime. Just ask Jim. He’s fighting back.