Treatment for a brain tumor should be individualized. It should be based on a person's age, general health, and the size, location, and type of tumor.
You and your loved ones will have many questions about cancer, the treatment, side effects, and the long-term outlook. Your health care team is the best source of this information. Don't hesitate to ask.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the formal ranking system used by the PDQ Editorial Boards to assess evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Treatment of brain cancer is usually complex. Most treatment plans involve several consulting doctors.
The team of doctors includes neurosurgeons (specialists in the brain and nervous system), oncologists, radiation oncologists (doctors who practice radiation therapy), and, of course, your primary health care provider. Your team may also include a dietitian, a social worker, a physical therapist, and, possibly, other specialists.
The treatment protocols vary widely according to the location of the tumor, its size and type, your age, and any additional medical problems that you may have.
The most widely used treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In most cases, more than one of these is used.
Brain Cancer Surgery
Many people with a brain tumor undergo surgery.
The purpose of surgery is to confirm that the abnormality seen during testing is indeed a tumor and to remove the tumor. If the tumor cannot be removed, the surgeon will take a sample of the tumor to identify its type.
In some cases, mostly in benign tumors, symptoms can be completely cured by surgical removal of the tumor. The neurosurgeon will attempt to remove all the tumor when possible.
You may undergo several treatments and procedures before surgery. For example:
You may be given a steroid drug, such as dexamethasone (Decadron), to relieve swelling.
You may be treated with an anticonvulsant drug to relieve or prevent seizures.
If you have excess cerebrospinal fluid collecting around the brain, a thin, plastic tube called a shunt may be placed to drain the fluid. One end of the shunt is placed in the cavity where fluid collects; the other end is threaded under your skin to another part of the body. The fluid drains from the brain to a site from which the fluid can be easily eliminated.
Radiation Therapy for Brain Cancer
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is the use of high-energy rays to kills tumor cells, thereby stopping them from growing and multiplying.
Radiation therapy may be used for people who cannot undergo surgery. In other cases, it is used after surgery to kill any tumor cells that may remain.
Radiation therapy is a local therapy. This means that it affects only cells in its path. It does not harm cells elsewhere in the body or even elsewhere in the brain.
Radiation can be given in the following ways.
External radiation uses a high-energy beam of radiation targeted at the tumor. The beam travels through the skin, the skull, healthy brain tissue, and other tissues to get to the tumor. The treatments are usually given five days a week for a certain amount of time. Each treatment takes only a few minutes.
Internal or implant radiation uses a tiny radioactive capsule that is placed inside the tumor itself. The radiation emitted from the capsule destroys the tumor. The radioactivity of the capsule decreases a little bit each day and is carefully calculated to run out when the optimal dose has been given. You need to stay in the hospital for several days while receiving this treatment.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is sometimes called a "knifeless" surgical technique, though it does not involve surgery. It destroys a brain tumor without opening the skull. A CT or MRI scan is used to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor in the brain. A single large dose of high-energy radiation beams are trained on the tumor from different angles. The radiation destroys the tumor. There are various types of stereotactic radiosurgery and the technique has fewer complications than open surgery and a shorter recovery time.