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"Treatments are keeping the cancer under control for a longer time," Gilbert said. Without the tumor continuing to grow, patients "maintain their function and with that, their quality of life," he said.
Even though survival time remains grim, it has improved, said Dr. Steve Brem, neurosurgery chief at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.
"Only a few years ago, it used to be about nine months," Brem said. Gliomas are so invasive -- spreading tentacles into the brain in a way that all cannot be removed with surgery -- that they usually cannot be cured, he explained.
Treatments besides Temodar that might improve the odds are in testing now: several experimental drugs, an experimental vaccine that prods the immune system to fight the cancer, and a radioactive "homing device" that helps a cancer drug reach tumors deep in the brain.
However, much more research is needed to make meaningful gains, said a statement from the International Brain Tumour Alliance, a British-based international support and advocacy group.
Each year 200,000 people worldwide develop a malignant brain tumor "and there has been only a minimal improvement in new therapies in the past 30 years," the statement says.
Cancer research is a cause Kennedy championed long before his illness, the cancer society's chief executive, John Seffrin, said in a statement.
Kennedy helped overhaul the 1971 National Cancer Act, "rein in the tobacco industry" with a bill giving the federal Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products, and backed expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program with an increase in the tobacco tax, the statement said.
For these and other achievements, he was given the Society's Medal of Honor and National Distinguished Advocacy Award.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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