Seizure Drug May Extend the Lives of Brain Tumor Patients

A new study finds that brain tumor patients taking valproic acid in addition to customary therapy, may live longer than patients taking other AEDs.

A new study finds that brain tumor patients, who are given the anti-epileptic drug valproic acid (Depakote) in addition to customary therapy, may live longer than patients given other types of epilepsy medications.

"Despite some limitations, our results suggest that the choice of seizure medications in brain tumor patients should be carefully considered as it may give people a few more months with their loved ones," reported study author Michael Weller, MD, of the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, member of the American Academy of Neurology.

Roughly 50% of people suffering from glioblastomas, the most frequently occurring malignant brain tumor in adults, experience seizures. Standard treatment following surgery for patients with glioblastoma is radiation therapy, combined with the chemotherapy using temozolomide (Temodar).

Researchers from the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and the National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group (NCIC) assessed the efficiency of epilepsy drugs given to 573 brain tumor patients, all of whom were previously participants in a clinical trial which examined radiation therapy with and without temozolomide.

At the start of the study, 398 patients were taking AEDs, (97 of whom were on valproic acid as their sole anti-seizure medication) while 175 participants were not. The researchers found that patients treated with both chemotherapy and radiation performed better overall, but participants who also took valproic acid for seizure prevention lived an average of three months longer.

However, patients receiving valproic acid in addition to radiation therapy and temozolomide experienced an adverse event where they were more likely to undergo a decrease in blood platelets and white blood cells; increasing the risk of bleeding and infection. For the group solely on radiation without temozolomide, adding valproic acid did not prolong life.

According to Weller, further research is needed in order to determine if valproic acid helps patients receiving radiation therapy and temozolomide live longer, and if it does, then why.

This study was published in the August 31, 2011, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.