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How are wafers used to treat brain tumors?

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Quick Answer

Gliadel wafers are inserted into the area of the brain where a brain tumor was removed, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. As they are impregnated with a chemotherapy drug, the wafers kill remaining the brain tumor cells that are left.

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Gliadel wafers are soaked in a drug called BiCNU, or carmustine, according to Chemocare. The wafers are officially used to treat recurring brain tumors called gliomas, but the drug is used to treat other brain tumors such as astrocytomas, medulloblastomas and brain tumors that have metastasized from other areas in the body. The drug is also used to treat multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin disease.

As many as eight wafers can be implanted into the patient's brain at a time, according to WebMD. They dissolve slowly as they release the drug.

Cancer cells rest, grow and divide uncontrollably, says Chemocare. Carmustine is an alkylating agent, which is a type of chemotherapy drug that acts when the cells are in the resting phase. Because of this, carmustine is called a cell-cycle nonspecific drug. It is also unusual because it is a rare drug that can cross the blood-brain barrier that keeps pathogens from reaching the brain. The Gliadel wafer is also used with radiation therapy.

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