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Health Beat: Lighting up brain tumors

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Aug 26 2013 10:59:52 AM CDT
Updated On: Aug 26 2013 04:37:56 PM CDT

Sixty-nine thousand people will be told they have a brain tumor this year.

CLEVELAND -

Sixty-nine thousand people will be told they have a brain tumor this year. For people with the most aggressive forms, they’re expected to live less than five years after receiving the diagnosis.

One major problem for surgeons is not being able to get the entire tumor out. Now, doctors are able to light up the tumor and see them better than ever before.

Judy Morrill walks four miles every single day with her dog, Emma, and her husband, Jim, by her side. Even the most deadly form of a brain tumor, called a glioblastoma, couldn’t slow her down.

"I just made up my mind that I was going to go forward and not backward and make the best of it," said Judy Morrill.

She had one surgery to remove most of the tumor, but with this type of cancer, the cells can spread like fingers throughout the brain.

"We can never get all the tumor cells out," said Dr. Michael Vogelbaum, of the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland.

Now, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic are using a drug used to treat skin cancer, called 5-ALA, to literally light up cancer cells in the brain.

"It is converted primary by tumor cells into that substance that glows," Vogelbaum explained.

Morrill had a second surgery using 5-ALA, and doctors removed more of her tumor. Now 70, Morrill is looking forward to what this new decade will bring.

"I'm so lucky to be alive. Last year, I didn't think I would be here for my birthday and now I'm having one this year," Morrill said.

Although 5-ALA is approved to treat brain tumors in Europe and bladder cancer in the U.S., the Cleveland Clinic is one of the few hospitals in the country involved in a clinical trial using it.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Michael Vogelbaum about a new treatment for brain tumors