Finding Purpose Amid Health Challenges
- “Antiques Roadshow” star Theo Burrell, 36, is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. She’s using her experience with the cancerous brain tumor to advocate for more research and hopeful treatments for the disease.
- Burrell was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma brain tumor last year. She underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for treatment thus far. This kind of brain tumor “grows and spreads very quickly,” according to the National Cancer Institute. The average survival rate is 15 months with treatment and less than six if left untreated.
- Symptoms often associated with glioblastoma may include seizures, headaches, changes in speech, and difficulty balancing.
- Surgery often cannot remove all the glioblastoma because of the way the tumor burrows into the brain. However, treatment options exist for glioblastoma, offering much-needed hope, such as tumor-treating fields (TTFields), which use low-intensity electric fields, making it harder for cancer cells to flourish. Optune is a device a patient puts on their head that can extend a patient’s life by two years.
- Neuro-oncologist Dr. Henry Friedman tells SurvivorNet that his Duke Cancer Center team is researching poliovirus and immunotherapy to extend the 5-year survival rate for patients impacted by glioblastoma.
“Antiques Roadshow” star Theo Burrell is using her experience with brain cancer to raise awareness about the disease that’s taken an emotional toll on her life. In a passionate speech to government leaders, she laid out startling statistics about brain tumors, noting that only “one percent” of cancer research funding goes to the disease that is impacting the lives of many people like her desperately looking for hope.
“Today I speak with Scottish parliament about living with cancer and brain tumors,” Burrell wrote in an Instagram post.
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“The fight for faster diagnosis, better treatment, and increased funding continues. Here’s a snapshot of the disturbing statistics patients are faced with,” Burrell added.
Burrell is battling a grade 4 glioblastoma. According to the National Cancer Institute, this type of brain tumor grows and spreads quickly. The average survival rate is 15 months with treatment and less than six if left untreated.
Research on glioblastomas is ongoing, with some of it showing promise. However, the cancerous brain tumor impacting Burrell also took a toll on former U.S. Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy and President Joe Biden’s son, Beau.
Dr. Henry Friedman, a noted neuro-oncologist who helps lead The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke Cancer Institute, is among the brain cancer experts looking for ways to treat malignant brain tumors better. We will explore treatment options for glioblastoma in greater detail further down. However, Burrell is like many glioblastoma patients who focus on the positive despite their prognosis.
Helping Patients Better Understand Brain Cancer
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- Should The Wanted’s Tom Parker, 32, Consider Optune for Inoperable Brain Tumor? The Treatment Can Extend Survival Time in Some Patients
- Can Cell Phones & 5G Cause Cancer? A Leading Brain Cancer Doctor Says “No”
- Could a New Treatment Have Saved John McCain? Fighting Brain Cancer With Electric Fields
Burrell’s Emotional Brain Cancer Journey
Burrell revealed that she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in 2022.
“Receiving my diagnosis, at the age of 35, when my son was one year old, was devastating,” Burrell previously told U.K.-based news outlet The Sun.
Burrell is among the team of experts that appear on the popular television show that comes from auction houses. The show has been around since 1979 and has had various iterations over the years. She appears on the British version of the show, which tours throughout the U.K., valuing various treasures and trinkets. She has been a part of the show since 2018.
However, she says things changed seemingly in a flash after her diagnosis.
“Overnight, everything had changed. Suddenly, I’d gone from being a healthy person in the middle of my life with a new baby to having incurable cancer with maybe only a year or two left to live,” Burrell said.
After being diagnosed, Burrell said she immediately underwent surgery to remove the tumor. She also had chemotherapy and radiation. She said in a recent interview since her diagnosis, she’s gone through the rigors of treatment.
“I’ve lost my hair, I’m no longer allowed to drive, and no longer able to work,” she said.
“What followed was months of surgery and treatment to try and prolong my life, and … I continue to make the best of each day,” Burrell added, saying she’s “doing quite well.”
Treatment Options for Glioblastoma Show Promise, But More Research Is Needed
We mentioned Dr. Henry Friedman earlier, who has been researching glioblastomas for years. He tells SurvivorNet that he’s focused on extending the lives of glioblastoma patients.
WATCH: Using poliovirus to treat an aggressive brain tumor like glioblastoma (GBM).
“The good that can come out of this research is it offers hope,” Dr. Friedman told SurvivorNet during an interview.
He and his colleagues at Duke have been researching a new therapy that combines a modified poliovirus and immunotherapy. The modified poliovirus is used to treat glioblastoma brain tumors. Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to combat cancer cells from within.
Dr. Friedman shared the therapy work by injecting the modified poliovirus directly into the tumor through a catheter. It lyses the tumor. Tumor lysis occurs when cancer cells fall apart and flood the bloodstream faster than the body can rid itself of them due to cancer treatment such as chemotherapy.
“Now we’re injecting poliovirus into the wall of the crater of the tumor because that’s where most tumor cells reside. We’re also injecting it into the lymph nodes on the same side the tumor is located in the body,” Dr. Friedman explained of the modified approach.
“With repetitive dosing of poliovirus immunotherapy, hopefully, we can boost the 5-year survival rate beyond 20 percent,” Dr. Friedman said.
Other treatment options for glioblastoma include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug temozolomide (Temodar). This is a chemotherapy drug patients battling glioblastoma can take after surgery and radiation. The drug essentially slows down tumor growth, Dr. Daniel Wahl, professor of radiation and oncology at the University of Michigan, explains.
“Patients with GBM have effective treatment options; there are four of them: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and tumor targeting fields. These are electric fields that we can use to treat these cancers,” Dr. Wahl said.
Other FDA-approved drugs created to treat glioblastoma include lomustine (brand name Gleostine), intravenous carmustine (brand name Bicnu), carmustine wafer implants, and Avastin (brand name bevacizumab).
Avastin is a targeted drug therapy that blocks glioblastoma cells from requesting new blood vessels that feed and allow the tumor to grow.
“Outcomes for these patients are still suboptimal. What I tell my patients is that we have these effective treatments, but what they do is they delay the time to when this tumor comes back. Only in absolutely exceptional circumstances would we ever talk about getting rid of one of these cancers a few,” Dr. Wahl said.
WATCH: Using electric sources to improve glioblastoma treatment.
Another area of promise includes tumor-treating fields, which can help extend patients’ lives by two years on average. TTFields use low-intensity electric fields to disrupt the cell division process, making it harder for cancerous cells to multiply.
“There’s been a very exciting development of tumor treating fields, which are electrical fields that have been applied to the brain,” Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, a neurologist at Tufts Medical Center, previously told Survivor Net.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with glioblastoma, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- What stage is my brain cancer?
- What are the treatment options for my brain cancer?
- What are the risks and benefits of the recommended treatment?
- What are the side effects of the recommended treatment?
- How long will it take to recover from treatment, and will I be able to return to work and normal activities?
- What’s the likelihood that insurance will cover the recommended treatment?
- Am I a good candidate for temozolomide, Optune, or clinical trials?