Brain cancer patient living longer with electrical device that he'll wear the rest of his life

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - One brain cancer patient was not expected to live to see this Christmas, or last Christmas, or even the one before that but his survival is inspiring doctors to find out how he does it and imitate his treatment in other people.

Martin Romero Sanchez has to wear a cap -- all the time -- to keep his cancer in check. He has been living with glioblastoma since 2012. The disease, on average, claims lives 14 months after diagnosis.

“I arrived at my brain tumor situation just at the right time,” Romero Sanchez said this week.

It's not something for which many people would be grateful, but for being one of the first to try Novocure's electrical cap that prevents cancer cells from dividing and forming tumors, Romero Sanchez counts his blessings.

He was part of a clinical trial for the device, and because of successful results like his, the Food and Drug Administration approved the device. Meaning, he and many other people with the disease have the opportunity to keep using the device in combination with other therapies in hopes of extending their lives.

Learn more here about Romero Sanchez and how the device works.

“It's hard to believe all of it was just coincidence,” he said. “I am blessed by it. I am very fortunate and there's not a day of my life that I don't realize that. I do realize, I mean there's a lot of science in this, but I still feel blessed having found this team here in Memorial Hermann.”

The doctors at the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann are the brains that help make the blessings possible. Romero Sanchez’s team includes Dr. Jay-Jiguang Zhu, neuro-oncologist, Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and associate professor of neurology, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Dr. Nitin Tandon, neurosurgeon, Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and professor of neurosurgery, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

“Gliomas are terrible disease and a lot of patients succumb to this disease, so, we all gravitate towards the patients who do well and try to learn from them and try to understand what worked in them and certainly in Martin's case, this idea that a combination of aggressive surgery intervention and aggressive chemotherapy intervention has bought us all this time and potentially made him a long-term survivor,” Dr. Tandon said.

The good news is, this treatment is out of clinical trial and on the market. This week in JAMA, experts wrote the device in combination with chemotherapy or radiation has better results than chemo alone.

The bad news is, it does not work in some people. 

Dr. Zhu says Romero Sanchez has a gene that makes his outcome better than others.

“One of the specific genes his IDH1. With that mutation, patients do better, and Martin has that gene as well. So, to some degree that contributes to the well-being but not all the patients with IDH mutations are doing as good as Martin,” Dr. Zhu said.

Romero Sanchez humbly credits more than genes to his success.

“It's not only the great team here at Memorial Hermann, but also the care and concern for my friends, for my family, and most of all for my wife. If I didn't have that as my support, I may not have survived,” he said.

When patients first start using this therapy, it's typically in combination with either chemo or radiation.

Romero Sanchez will wear the cap forever, even in his sleep, but he no longer has to do chemo. 

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