Vice President Biden's Son Dies of Brain CancerJun 4, 2015
On Saturday, Beau Biden, oldest son of son of Vice President Joe Biden and former attorney general of Delaware, died after a battle with brain cancer.
Biden's death raises questions about the disease that killed him-one that's alarmingly common in adults and misunderstood by the public, the Daily Beast reports.
The term brain cancer encompasses a variety of malignant and benign tumors that grow in and around the brain. The disease impacts thousands of people each year in the United States. This past year there were nearly 70,000 new cases and about 14,000 deaths from the disease, according to the Daily Beast. There are many different types of brain cancer and each one has a unique set of features. The cancer may be a primary tumor, arising from cells that compose the brain itself. It could be a tumor of the skull or the covering of the brain, or metastatic disease, which occurs when a cancer from elsewhere in the body spreads into the central nervous system. Each types carries with its own separate prognosis-ranging from a life expectancy of under a year to a non-life threatening condition.
The Biden family has not said which form of the disease Beau Biden had, though, because of what is known, there is speculation Biden may have had a primary brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme. Glioblastoma is an aggressive and often fatal tumor, with an estimated two-year survival rate of around 17 percent for patients between 40 and 65 years old. Beau Biden was 46. The underlying cause of GBM is unknown, but it is thought to be a disease that arises from astrocytes, the support cells of the brain, and is typically found in the cerebral hemispheres. Most cases of GBM arise directly from mutations in healthy cells. However, a small number may transform into GBM from a previously existing lower grade tumor.
Factors associated with the development of GBM are not as clear-cut as, say, the association between smoking and lung cancer, but some experts believe that environmental risk factors, such as radiation from cell phone use, may contribute to brain cancer, the Daily Beast reports. Cell phones emit radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in the microwave spectrum, which may be cancer causing, although a definitive association has not yet been established.
In 2011, the World Health Organization's International Agency on Cancer classified this radiation as possibly carcinogenic, Reuters reports. In response to concerns about possible dangers of cell phone radiation, Berkeley, California passed an ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to provide written warning to cell phone purchasers about potential radiation exposure.
Earlier studies of cell phone usage and brain cancer focused mainly on adults, but because of the dramatic increase in cell phone ownership among children, researchers are now turning greater attention to children's exposure to radiation from cell phones. Children, with their thinner skulls and still-developing brains, may be more susceptible to brain cancer from the non-ionizing electromagnetic fields emitted from cell phones, according to the Daily Beast. A study in Sweden found a higher risk for glioma in participants who started using cell phones as children or adolescents.