What are some of the treatments for brain tumors?
Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor, as well as your overall health and your preferences. Your neurosurgical oncologist can tailor treatment to fit your particular situation.
If the brain tumor is located in a place that makes it accessible for an operation, your neurosurgical oncologist will work to remove as much of your brain tumor as possible. In some cases, tumors are small and easy to separate from surrounding brain tissue, which makes complete surgical removal possible. In other cases, tumors cannot be separated from surrounding tissue, or they are located near sensitive areas in your brain, making surgery risky. In these situations your neurosurgical oncologist may try to remove as much of the tumor as is safe. Even removing a portion of the brain tumor may help reduce signs and symptoms. In some cases only a small biopsy is taken to confirm the diagnosis.
Surgery to remove a brain tumor carries risks, such as infection and bleeding. Other risks may depend on the location of the tumor. For example, surgery on a tumor near the nerves that connect to your eyes to your brain may carry a risk of vision loss.
Radiation therapy uses beams of high-energy particles, such as X-rays, to kill tumor cells. Radiation therapy can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation), or, in very rare cases, objects that release radiation can be placed inside your body close to your brain tumor (brachytherapy).
External beam radiation can focus just on the area of your brain where the tumor is located, or it can be applied to your entire brain (whole brain radiation). Whole brain radiation is sometimes used after surgery to kill tumor cells that might have been left behind.
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type and dose of radiation. In general it can cause fatigue, headaches, and scalp irritation.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is not a form of surgery in the traditional sense. Instead, radiosurgery uses multiple beams of radiation to give a highly focused form of radiation treatment to kill the tumor cells in a very small area. By itself, each beam of radiation is not particularly powerful, but at the point where all the beams meet—the brain tumor—a very large dose of radiation is delivered, killing the tumor cells.
Radiosurgery is typically completed in one treatment, and in most cases you can go home the same day. Side effects may include fatigue, headache and nausea.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill tumor cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally in pill form or injected into a vein (intravenously).
Another type of chemotherapy can be placed during surgery. When removing all or part of the brain tumor, your surgeon may place one or more disk-shaped wafers in the space left by the tumor. These wafers slowly release a chemotherapy drug over the next several days. Chemotherapy side effects depend on the type and dose of drugs you receive. Systemic chemotherapy—chemotherapy distributed throughout the body—can cause nausea, vomiting, and hair loss.
Targeted Drug Therapy
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die. Many targeted drug therapies are very new and still being studied in clinical trials.
One targeted drug therapy used to treat brain tumors is bevacizumab (Avastin). This drug, given through a vein (intravenously), stops the formation of new blood vessels, cutting off blood supply to a tumor and, in effect, strangling the tumor cells.
Rehabilitation after Treatment
Because brain tumors can develop in parts of the brain that control motor skills, speech, vision, and thinking, rehabilitation may be a necessary part of recovery. Your doctor may refer you to services that can help, such as
Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help you regain lost motor skills or muscle strength.
Occupational therapy. Occupational therapy can help you get back to your normal daily activities, including work, after a brain tumor or other illness.
Speech therapy. Undergoing speech therapy with specialists in speech difficulties (speech pathologists) can help if you have difficulty speaking.
What is the role of alternative medicine?
Very little research has been done on complementary and alternative brain tumor treatments. No alternative treatments have been proven to cure brain tumors. However, they may help you cope with the side effects of your brain tumor and its treatment. Talk to your doctor about your options.
Some complementary and alternative treatments that may help you cope include
- music therapy
- relaxation exercises
Where can I find support and get help to cope with my diagnosis and treatment?
Being diagnosed with a brain tumor can be overwhelming and frightening. It can make you feel like you have little control over your health. But you can take steps to cope with the challenges that may follow your diagnosis. Consider the following options:
Find out all you can about your specific brain tumor. Write down your questions and bring them to your appointments. As your doctor answers your questions, take notes or ask a family member to come along to appointments and take notes. The more you and your family know and understand about each aspect of your care, the more confident you will feel when it comes time to make treatment decisions.
Find someone you can talk with. Find someone you can share your feelings with. You may have a close friend or family member who is a good listener. Speaking with a clergy member or counselor can help. Other people with brain tumors may be able to offer unique insights. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area. Online message boards, such as those offered by the National Brain Tumor Foundation, are another option.
Take care of yourself. Take care of your body and your mind during treatment. Choose a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Exercise when you feel able. Get enough sleep so that you feel rested. Reduce stress in your life by taking time for relaxing activities, such as listening to music or writing in a journal.
National Brain Tumor Society
American Brain Tumor Association
Science Daily: News about Brain Tumors
For more information or to request an appointment with an brain tumor specialist, please call 1-800-BARROW1 (227-7691) or (602)406-6281.