Although around 7000 people per year in the UK are diagnosed with brain cancer, making it about the 10th most common site for cancer in men and the 13th in women, research in this area has not received the attention it merits.
Brain cancer deaths in children exceed those of leukaemia making it the second highest cause of death in this age group after accidents and low grade glial tumours are a significant cause of neurological morbidity and mortality in middle age.
With improved control of primary tumours elsewhere in the body, such as breast and colon, secondary (metastatic) tumours in the brain are approaching 50% of the intracranial tumours seen in clinical practice. Secondary brain tumours present their own unique problems for treatment.
Primary brain tumours differ from most other cancers by their diffusive infiltration of the surrounding normal brain tissue, thus making total resection of the tumour by surgery rarely successful. The infiltrative expansion causes progressive neurological deterioration in function and often affects memory and personality – a particularly devastating symptom for the patient and difficult for relatives.
Since surgery alone can only provide a partial solution, future developments in treatment strategies are likely rely on systemic drug therapy. However, current chemotherapy regimens have an unpredictable efficacy with large variation in drug sensitivity demonstrated between individuals and many producing unpleasant side effects.