Tumor-Treating Field Therapy Looks Beyond Brain Cancer

Andrew D. Smith
Published: Tuesday, Jul 31, 2018
Dr. Roger Stupp

Roger Stupp, MD

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) made history when it updated its glioblastoma treatment guidelines in March. The group became the first learned body to endorse the routine frontline use of an entirely new treatment modality known as tumor-treating fields (TTFs).

“It actually makes more sense to treat cancer from an electrical perspective rather than a chemical perspective because cancer tends to be chemically stable and electrically instable,” Taruno said. “In theory, it should be possible to disrupt the electrical activity in many cancers and force tumors to commit suicide.”

Figure. Tumor-Treating Fields in the Radiofrequency Spectrum

Figure. Tumor-Treating Fields in the Radiofrequency Spectrum

A Growing Body of Research

The idea of using electromagnetic fields to treat cancer dates back at least as far as the 1920s, when investigators demonstrated that ultrashort wavelengths initially spurred rapid growth and then tumor destruction in plants.4 It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that investigators found a practical use for electromagnetic fields in cancer treatment: radiofrequency ablations for hepatic cancers.5 In the study, a needle electrode was advanced into the tumor for the delivery of a high-frequency alternating current. Although surgical resection was still favored, the results showed radiofrequency ablation of unresectable tumors provided local disease control.
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