Terminal Cancer Patients Can Still Put Up a Fight

Three weeks ago, 38-year-old Allan Shallenberger from Los Angeles received the same grim diagnosis as Sen. Ted Kennedy: he had the same type of brain tumor that cannot be surgically removed.

"Put up the fight of your life, and if it doesn't work out, hey, well at least you put up the fight," Shallenberger said, describing his predicament.

For Shallenberger and soon, Ted Kennedy, that means radiation -- almost daily -- for six weeks, and chemotherapy in the form of a pill taken once a day.

These treatments buy time, but they are not cures.

Among malignant glioma patients, only 27 percent are alive two years after diagnosis.


Dr. Jan Buckner of the Mayo Clinic explained, "The problem with brain tumors, unfortunately, is that the tumor cells spread throughout the brain and hide."

This is why many patients today take an extra step, enrolling in clinical trials and trying their luck with experimental treatments.

"We know that standard therapies are not all that effective. So, if there are promising therapies out there, why not give them a try?" Buckner said.

There are many clinical trials to choose from. Click here to see a list of clinical trials for malignant glioma.

On the National Institutes of Health Web site today, 101 studies are listed, looking for brain cancer patients to "test" experimental treatments. Some are drugs that kill the tumors by cutting off their blood flow. Others coax the cancer cells to kill themselves.


At Duke University, researchers are testing a vaccine on brain cancers. ABC News recently reported on Ryan DeGrand, who gets an injection once a month and has survived for four years.

"The vaccine, to me, is a way for me to stay the way I am today," DeGrand said.

"We've got patients that are four, five, six years now on this," Dr. John Sampson of Duke University Medical Center, said. "These patients don't live past a year, usually."

Andy Walch, who is 74, has survived six years, testing a lung cancer drug on his brain cancer.

"At the moment, I'm feeling great and I'm not going to let it get me down," Walch said.

But for every case like theirs, there are others for whom the experimental treatment fails.

As Ted Kennedy now joins this battle, the odds are clearly against him. But if he were looking for some reason to hope, he can find it.