New research suggests an electric device that is worn on the head can zap tumor-forming glioblastoma cells with a rapidly alternating sequence of low-intensity electrical frequencies. These frequencies interrupt cancer cells’ ability to function, which would eventually leads to cells’ death.
Study author Dr. Roger Stupp, who is a professor of neurological surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says the cap is “an entirely different way to treat cancer.”
When you constantly change the direction of electrical shocks, exposed cells have to reorient themselves again and again—this method is different than radiation technologies that are typically used for similar cases.
Dr. Stupp explained that the standard approach to treat this type of cancer involves surgery, radiation and six to 12 months of chemotherapy—and even with these treatments the patient is only given a 27 percent chance of survival over the next two years.
The cap treatment proved to prevent tumor cells from growing and dividing, increasing a patient’s survival time.
Between 2009 and 2014, 700 glioblastoma patients were involved in this study. Some were treated with standard care, while others were treated with the electric cap in addition to standard care. Upon analyzing results, researchers found the survival time of cap patients was roughly 21 months, while the survival time of standard care patients was only 16 months.
Dr. Stupp then added that the cap is “the first treatment to improve overall [results] in over a decade.” In order to use the cap, patients must shave their heads. Strips of electrodes are then wired from the head to a small generator. The device is supposed to be used for at least 18 hours per day.
Further study is necessary in order to determine whether or not the cap can be used to treat other types of cancers.
Photo: Franklin Heijnen, CC-BY
Elizabeth Chambers is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia.