Immunotherapy for Glioma & Astrocytoma

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center may prescribe immunotherapy drugs that stimulate the immune system to attack glioma or astrocytoma tumors, blocking the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy cells.

Immunotherapies work differently from chemotherapy drugs. They may be effective when chemotherapy drugs are not, and they often have different side effects. They may be used in conjunction with other treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

To determine the most effective medication, our doctors run laboratory tests to identify the genes, proteins, and other traits of a tumor. This can usually be done with a blood test or by taking a sample of tumor tissue to perform our precision molecular testing. This allows doctors to better match a tumor with the most effective treatment.

We maintain one of the country’s largest banks of brain tumor tissue matched with specimens of blood. This allows researchers to study similar tumors to see which treatments may be most effective.

We have one of the largest brain tumor tissue banks in the United States, providing researchers with the data to determine the most effective treatments for glioma and astrocytoma.

Monoclonal Antibodies

Many newer therapies for glioma are synthetic versions of an immune system protein called a monoclonal antibody. The immune system produces antibodies that identify and destroy very specific foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses. The drug bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody that targets and blocks a protein found in cancerous cells called vascular endothelial growth factor. This “tells” the cells to make new blood vessels, helping glioma tumors grow.

Bevacizumab can help prolong the amount of time before certain brain tumors, such as glioblastomas, start growing again after initial treatment.

Bevacizumab is given through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion, usually once every two weeks. Common side effects include high blood pressure, fatigue, and headaches.

Bevacizumab can also help lower the doses of the steroid medication that many people need to take during treatment. The steroid medication, called dexamethasone, is taken to help reduce swelling in the brain. Side effects may include upset stomach, increased hair growth, easy bruising, acne, or insomnia.

Managing Side Effects

Our doctors can help manage common side effects of targeted drugs used to treat people with glioma by adjusting the dose, prescribing other medications, or referring you to our many integrative therapies and supportive services.