Battling Brain Tumors with Optune


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — It’s one of the most lethal cancers, and it affects about 20,000 Americans a year. Glioblastoma is an aggressive, fast-growing brain tumor.  While there are treatments for glioblastoma, there is no cure.  Now see how new technology is helping patients live longer.

“I started having headaches,” said Ashley Laton.

When Laton had severe headaches last July, it never crossed her mind that it was cancer.

“The only thing I was thinking about was I’m a very single mom to an eight-year old that can’t be without me,” Laton said.

Laton was diagnosed with glioblastoma or GBM: a very aggressive tumor that originates in the brain. The standard treatment is surgery to remove the tumor followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

“Surgery is not curative by any means because the tumor has already put down roots or tentacles throughout the brain,” said Simon Khagi, MD, Assistant Professor in Medicine & Neurosurgery and Director of the UNC Brain Tumor Program at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

(Read Full Interview)

The prognosis is grim. Just 16 to 18 months to live. But Dr. Khagi, the director of the Brain Tumor program at the University of North Carolina, says this device is changing that!

“The newest technology for the treatment of glioblastoma is the use of Optune,” Dr. Khagi said.

Patients wear Optune on their head. It generates an electrical field to stop cancer cells from dividing.

“When the cell is confused and doesn’t know which direction to divide into that further complicates the entire process,” he explained.

A five-year study found it extended survival by an extra five months, when added to chemotherapy.

“Five months is potentially a birthday, a graduation,” Dr. Khagi said.

Patients wear the device at least 18 hours a day. Dr. Khagi found out firsthand what it’s like to wear Optune when Laton hooked him up at a 5k to raise money for brain cancer research!

“It helped me understand their struggles a little bit better,” Dr. Khagi said.

Laton is hopeful for a cure so she can continue spending precious time with her daughter Jordyn.

“That is my hope, my prayer, my wish, my everything,” Laton shared.

Laton and her daughter are planning a month-long trip to Europe in the spring. And she’s taking her Optune with her. Dr. Khagi says more insurance companies are covering the device. For more information on Optune or glioblastoma please visit or

Contributors to this news report include: Janna Ross, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4494

 BACKGROUND: Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that occurs in the brain or spinal cord. Glioblastoma forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. It is the most common and lethal form of brain cancer. It can occur at any age, but tends to occur more often in older adults. Exposure to radiation will increase a person’s risk and a family history of brain or spinal cord cancer can double a person’s chances of developing it. It can cause worsening headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Treatment is difficult, but may slow progression of the cancer and reduce signs and symptoms. Common signs and symptoms include headache, nausea or vomiting, confusion or a decline in brain function, and memory loss.


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: Problems with vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength, or reflexes may provide clues for a doctor about the part of the brain that may be affected by a brain tumor. MRI is often used to diagnose brain tumors as imaging tests allow a doctor to determine a brain tumors size and location. A biopsy can be done before or during surgery to remove the tumor, depending on its location and the particular situation. This can help the doctor’s prognosis and guide treatment options. Treatment includes surgery to remove the glioblastoma, but most people will receive additional treatments after surgery to target the remaining cells. Radiation therapy is usually recommended after therapy and may be combined with chemotherapy. Both may be used primarily for those who can’t undergo surgery. Targeted drugs such as Avastin focus on specific abnormalities in cancer cells that allow them to grow and thrive. Clinical trials will give a patient the chance to try the latest treatment options, but the risk of side effects may not be known. Palliative, or supportive care, exists to provide relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness.


NEW RESEARCH: Penn Medicine has established the newest team in the Abramson Cancer Center focused on Glioblastoma. The team will investigate new immune therapies, most notably ones that engineer patient’s T cells, the cells that act on behalf of the immune system, to attack tumor cells. The world’s first gene-based cancer therapy was pioneered at Penn Medicine, and it became the nation’s first FDA-approved personalized cellular therapy for cancer in August 2017. In addition to immunotherapy, the Abramson Cancer Center is equipped with more traditional treatments along with new innovations such as TumorGlow and proton therapy.



Bill Schaller, UNC Cancer Center


If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Simon Khagi, MD, Assistant Professor in Medicine & Neurosurgery, Director of the UNC Brain Tumor Program

Read the entire Q&A