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Treatment Option Overview

    There are different types of treatment for patients with adult brain and spinal cord tumors.

    Different types of treatment are available for patients with adult brain and spinal cord tumors. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

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    Four types of standard treatment are used:

    Watchful waiting

    Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change.

    Surgery

    Surgery may be used to diagnose and treat adult brain and spinal cord tumors. See the General Information section of this summary.

    Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

    Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of tumor and where it is in the brain or spinal cord.

    The following ways of giving radiation therapy to the tumor cause less damage to the healthy tissue that is around the tumor:

    • 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy: A procedure that uses a computer to create a 3-dimensional (3-D) picture of the brain or spinal cord tumor. This allows doctors to give the highest possible dose of radiation to the tumor, with as little damage to normal tissue as possible. This type of radiation therapy is also called 3-dimensional radiation therapy and 3D-CRT.
    • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): A type of 3-D radiation therapy that uses a computer to make pictures of the size and shape of the brain or spinal cord tumor. Thin beams of radiation of different intensities (strengths) are aimed at the tumor from many angles. This type of radiation therapy causes less damage to healthy tissue near the tumor.
    • Stereotactic radiosurgery: A type of radiation therapy that uses a head frame attached to the skull to aim a single large dose of radiation directly to a brain tumor. This causes less damage to nearby healthy tissue. Stereotactic radiosurgery is also called stereotaxic radiosurgery, radiosurgery, and radiation surgery. This procedure does not involve surgery.
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