It sounds like science fiction, but a cap-like device that makes electric fields to fight cancer improved survival for the first time in more than a decade for people with deadly brain tumors, final results of a large study suggest.
Many doctors are skeptical of the therapy, called tumor treating fields, and it's not a cure. It's also ultra-expensive -- $21,000 a month.
But in the study, more than twice as many patients were alive five years after getting it, plus the usual chemotherapy, than those given just the chemo -- 13 percent versus 5 percent.
"It's out of the box" in terms of how cancer is usually treated, and many doctors don't understand it or think it can help, said Dr. Roger Stupp, a brain tumor expert at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
He led the company-sponsored study while previously at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, and gave results Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Washington.
"You cannot argue with them -- they're great results," and unlikely to be due to a placebo effect, said one independent expert, Dr. Antonio Chiocca, neurosurgery chief at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Dr. George Demetri of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a board member of the association hosting the conference, agreed but called the benefit modest, because most patients still die within five years. "It is such a horrible disease" that any progress is important, he added.