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New Study Could Change Treatment for Type of Brain Cancer

Cancer experts meeting in Chicago say a major study could change the way they treat a type of brain cancer -- one that spreads from other parts of the body. That differs from tumors that develop directly in the brain, which is what killed Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on Saturday.

According to the study released Sunday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, treating the entire brain with radiation does not improve survival in many patients and harms the ability to talk, think and remember.

Study leader Dr. Jan Buckner of the Mayo Clinic said, "This is the classic question: Which is worse, the disease or the treatment?"

The traditional treatment for brain cancer is called radiosurgery -- targeting the tumor with intense radiation followed by low-level radiation to the entire brain.

While this method can control the growth of the tumor, its side effects harm the patient's quality of life and did not significantly improve the chances for survival.

The study shows that patients who received just the radiosurgery had fewer problems with thinking and speaking, but their survival rates were about the same as the more intense treatment.

Doctors say cancer that spreads to the brain from other sites in the body kills about 400,000 Americans every year.