Fans of "The Wanted" were shocked in October 2020 when one of the band's members, Tom Parker, announced that he had stage 4 brain cancer. Now, Parker has a positive health update to share: His cancer is stable.
"I'm sat here with tears in my eyes as I tell you. We've got my brain tumor under control," the 33-year-old captioned a photo of himself, with his wife and children, on Instagram. "We had the results from my latest scan…and I'm delighted to say it is STABLE. 😭😭😊😊"
Tom Parker Stable Brain Tumor : "Trust me when I say..I ain't dying!!! I am strong, I am healing and I will overcome this disease 💪🏻."
The English singer first shared the news that he was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma on Instagram on October 12, 2020, when his wife was pregnant with the couple's second child. At the time, Parker said in an interview with British magazine OK! that his tumor was inoperable and was likely terminal. Parker said he was diagnosed when he had a seizure in July 2020, followed by another one six weeks later.
While Parker's latest health update is positive, it also raises some questions about what it means to have a "stable" tumor. Here's what you need to know.
What is a glioblastoma?
Glioblastomas are a type of tumor called an astrocytoma, which can spread widely throughout the brain and blend with the normal brain tissue, making them hard to remove, the ACS says.
As Health previously reported, while it rarely spreads to other parts of the body, glioblastoma is typically an aggressive type of cancer. It's also the most common form of brain cancer in adults, tending to develop in active, otherwise healthy people—most frequently males.
The five-year survival rate for people in the 20- to 44-year-old age group (which includes Parker) is just 22%, per the ACS. It's even lower for older patients—9% for 45- to 54-year-olds and 6% for 55- to 64-year-olds.
What does it mean when a tumor is ‘stable’?
Parker specifically used this phrase when sharing his news. "'Stable' is a good way to describe a glioblastoma that seems to have stopped growing after treatment," Stephanie E. Weiss, MD, chief of the Division of Neurologic Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, tells Health. "It indicates that, based on the imaging and the patient's exam, there is no evidence that the tumor is growing."
When tumors are stable, "they're maintaining the status quo," Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, a neurooncologist and director of neurooncology at Providence Saint John's Health Center and chair of the Department of Translational Neurosciences and Neurotherapeutics at Saint John's Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, tells Health. Meaning, the tumor likely isn't shrinking, but it isn't growing, either.
The term "doesn't necessarily mean that the patient's original symptoms or the medications required to manage them have improved," Dr. Weiss says. But, she adds, "very often that is the case."
Dr. Weiss stresses that "'stable' doesn't mean 'cured.'" "Glioblastoma is very rarely cured, and survival beyond five years is very low," she says. "It also doesn't mean that it is 'gone' or even smaller on brain imaging that is used to monitor stability."
How can having a stable tumor impact prognosis?
It's a little complicated. "The anticipated average prognosis after treatment for glioblastoma includes all comers: Those for whom there is a period of stability and those for whom there isn't," Dr. Weiss says. "However, patients who do not have a period of stability tend to do worse, which is intuitive."
Parker's news doesn't mean that his diagnosis is no longer terminal. "While survival has improved over the last 15 years, as yet, glioblastoma is still considered a dire prognosis," Dr. Weiss says. "Our aim in the near and intermediate future is to render the disease more 'chronic,' like diabetes."
When a tumor is stable, it's essentially "paused at the moment," Dr. Kesari says, adding, "we have to see where it goes." Patients will usually get imaging tests done every two to four months to monitor the tumor and see how things progress, he says.
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