ARLINGTON, Texas - With a white mesh mask draped over his face, Steve Hawkins lies perfectly still as beams of radiation strike tumors in his brain.
The treatment takes a single minute, but Hawkins, whose lung cancer has spread to his brain, hopes it will add years to his life.
"Unless something new comes along, the best I can hope for is to keep it in check," said Hawkins, a 54-year-old grandfather of three. "But I'm of the opinion that with all the statistics out there, there's no reason I can't be one of the positive ones."
Hawkins, of Bedford, Texas, is the first Arlington Cancer Center patient to participate in a national trial on treatments for tumors that have spread to the brain. Researchers are comparing radiation therapy with another approach that combines radiation with thalidomide, a drug given to women in the late 1950s to control morning sickness but later found to cause severe birth defects.
Cancer researchers began using thalidomide after discovering that it interferes with blood vessel growth in fetal limbs and might have a similar effect on tumors.
The clinical trial is one of four the Arlington center is conducting with Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, a Philadelphia-based cooperative funded by the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.
The Arlington Cancer Center is the only North Texas site and one of six in Texas to participate in research with the organization. Clinical trials also are open for prostate, anal canal and pancreatic cancer at the Arlington center through the cooperative.
"The trials allow us to answer important questions and hopefully establish a gold standard for treatment," said Dr. Charles Lee, a radiation oncologist. "We need to see if some new treatment or new way of giving it is better than what is being done."
As a national organization, the oncology group can enroll enough patients across the country to test treatments effectively, Lee said. The cooperative has 43 clinical trials open across the country with about 2,000 patients participating each year, said Tom Wudarski, the oncology group's administrator.
Hawkins is one of 350 people nationally participating in the brain tumor trial. He undergoes radiation therapy five times a week and is participating in his second trial since doctors found the cancer in 2000. Chemotherapy had shrunk the tumor to almost nothing by October of last year. It returned in April, so he enrolled in a trial in San Antonio, but that was less effective. Since then, chemotherapy has kept the tumor in check.