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Sanford woman fights brain cancer with tumor-fighting device

September 6, 2018

The funeral of Sen. John McCain last week brought more attention to the most deadly form of brain cancer — called glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM.

There hasn’t been a significant advance in GBM treatment in more than a decade. But a new device is giving a Sanford woman, and many others, hope.

Last summer, 35-year-old Ashley Laton began to worry when she started having severe headaches.

Tests revealed she had GBM.

She got the standard treatments: surgery to remove the tumor, plus radiation and chemotherapy. Until recently, that approach has been the only hope for GBM patients.

Laton is willing to try anything to improve her odds of survival, even if it means keeping her head shaved so that an Optune device, an odd-looking cap with a battery backpack, can do its work.

“It elicits an electrical field within the brain and only impacts the dividing cancer cells within the brain,” said Dr. Simon Khagi, a neuro-oncologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The tumor-treating fields of energy from the cap confuse cancer cells, he said. Optune helps slow or stop GBM cancer cells from dividing, and it may also cause some of them to die so that they will never become tumors.

That’s why Laton wears it at least 18 hours a day.

“The more you wear it, the more it helps you,” Laton said.

There’s no pain, she said, “just like a warm washcloth on top of my head — that’s the kind of heat that I feel.”

Khagi credits donations and research funding for advances like Optune.

Clinical trials more than five years ago proved its safety and potential benefit after standard therapy.

“It showed a survival advantage over those patients that only got chemotherapy by itself,” Khagi said.

Optune is approved for adult patients by the Federal Drug Administration.

Laton is focused not only on the benefits she may gain from this device but on what it may mean for others yet to be diagnosed.

“There are more and more people become diagnosed with glioblastoma every day,” she said.

Both Laton and Khagi will be participating in the annual “Head for the Cure” 5K race and walk.

It will start at 8 a.m. Saturday at Southern Village in Chapel Hill.

Khagi said he expects to have his head shaved so he can run the race with the Optune device on his head and the battery pack on his back.

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