DEPARTMENTS: ASK THE EXPERTS: Your Questions Answered
Scott R. Plotkin, M.D., Ph.D., is director of the Neurofibromatosis Clinic at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, MA.
Q What is the latest on neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow on nerves?
DR. SCOTT R. PLOTKIN
A There's a lot of new research being done on neurofibromatosis. Here are two areas that I think are interesting:
My research team and I are currently studying this technique, in which a person is scanned from head to toe in 45 minutes, and the stations are fused into a single image through sophisticated software. This technique has a number of potential advantages over traditional MRI scans. First, if patients have multiple tumors spread throughout their body, all the tumors can be imaged in a single MRI session. Second, these scans can help estimate a patient's overall response to treatment, even if their doctor is treating a specific tumor in their left arm.
Most neurofibromatosis-related tumors are benign, and their cells don't divide as rapidly as those in malignant (or cancerous) tumors. Instead of trying to kill dividing cells with traditional chemotherapy, we are using novel chemotherapy drugs that can suppress inappropriately activated signaling pathways that cause tumor growth. Researchers are interested in effective chemotherapy drugs since surgical removal of tumors is associated with risks. Another benefit is that chemotherapy treats the entire person rather than one specific tumor.