The cap, called Optune, works by sending alternating frequencies to the brain, targeting dividing cells. In the brain, most of the cells that divide are generally cancerous, so targeting them can potentially halt growth. The cap acts as a power source, sending out the frequencies.
The frequencies are called tumor treatment fields, or TTFields. The TTFields are able to disrupt the process in which cells divide. If the division process is successful, the cells continue to grow and spread. Before the cells are able to divide, there are chromosomes that must align in order to make that happen. The cap’s frequencies attack these chromosomes, keeping them from forming for cell division.
To experience the effects of the cap, the patients are required to wear it for 18 hours each day. In the clinical trial, there were no issues with this long period of wearing the cap, as it did not interfere with daily activities. No side effects were directly observed as a result of wearing the cap either. In addition, the patients were given temozolomide, a standard drug used in chemotherapy.
In the clinical trial, those who wore the cap had nearly double the survival rate of those who did not. Of the 695 patients involved in the study, the rate of survival increased from five percent to 13 percent. All of the patients were recently diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, which as an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer.
The data was collected from July of 2009 through November of 2014. The cost of this treatment totals about $700 per day, making it a less accessible form of treatment, despite its effectiveness. Thankfully, there are many insurance companies in the U.S. that will be covering some of the cost in the treatment of brain cancer. In addition, the length of the treatment can present an issue, as some patients may not have the luxury of spending five years in treatment.
Despite these few inconveniences, the Optune cap is a true achievement in the medical industry. This non-invasive, unorthodox method of treating cancer provides insight into the workings of the cells and how they can be inhibited. However, this treatment cannot be used on other forms of cancer, such as bone cancer or cervical cancer. The cells in these areas divide regularly, not just the cancer cells; whereas in the brain, the cells are mostly constant and do not divide aside from cancer cells.
That being said, Novocure is looking to expand this technology and provide a treatment for pancreatic cancer in the near future.