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Brain Tumors: Treatment Introduction

Different types of treatments can be used for brain tumors. Which may work best for you? It depends on a number of factors. These include the type of tumor, its size and location, and whether the healthcare provider thinks it can be removed with surgery. Factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities. Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, the goals of these treatments, how successful they’re expected to be, and what the risks and side effects are.

Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more than 1, and ask you to decide which 1 you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It is important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get another opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. In addition, you may want to include your family and friends in this process.

Understanding the goals of treatment for brain tumors

Treatment may control or cure the brain tumor. It may also improve your quality of life by helping to control the symptoms of the disease. The goal of brain tumor treatment is to do 1 or more of these things:

  • Remove or destroy the brain tumor

  • Stop or slow the growth or spread of brain tumor cells

  • Prevent or delay the tumor's return

  • Ease symptoms caused by the tumor, such as headaches or seizures

Ask your healthcare provider what the goals of your treatment are.

Types of treatment for brain tumors

Different types of brain tumor treatments have different goals. The types of treatment and their goals include:

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor while leaving as much of the brain as possible intact. It is often the first step in treatment for most brain tumors. Removing the tumor (resection) is usually done if the tumor can be removed safely. Surgery also gives the healthcare team an exact diagnosis. It also reduces the tumor size. In some cases, the surgeon can’t remove the whole tumor. This may be because it’s near vital parts of the brain. Or it may be growing into the brain like fingers of a glove. If the tumor is in an area of the brain that can’t be reached safely, a small amount of tissue is taken. This is called a biopsy. 

  • Radiation therapy. The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells. This is done using X-rays, gamma rays, or proton beams. This may be done to shrink a tumor before surgery. Or it may be done to kill any cancer cells left after surgery. Radiation therapy may also be used as the main treatment if surgery is not an option. It can also help relieve symptoms caused by a tumor. 

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may be used after surgery or biopsy. Its goal is to reduce the chance that the cancer will grow and spread. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. In most cases, chemotherapy medicines are taken by mouth as pills. But they may also be given as into a vein (IV) or into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in and around the brain. If you can’t have surgery, your healthcare provider may still give you chemotherapy. You may also have it with radiation therapy. You may also have chemotherapy if your cancer returns after treatment.  

  • Targeted therapy. Newer medicines target different parts of tumor cells or nearby blood vessels. They work differently from standard chemotherapy medicines. Some of these targeted medicines are now used to help treat certain brain tumors. They are usually used when surgery is not an option.

  • Other medicines. Other medicines might be used to help relieve symptoms caused by the tumor or its treatment. For example, you might be given medicines to help prevent seizures, or to help control swelling in the brain.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers are also finding new ways to treat brain tumors. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your healthcare team if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Working with your healthcare team

Your healthcare team will help you make a treatment plan. It may take time to choose the best plan. Ask your healthcare provider how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get a second opinion from another healthcare provider before deciding on treatment. A second opinion can give peace of mind and help you make sure you’re making the best choices for treatment. You may also want to talk with your family and friends.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jasmin, Luc, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2018
© 2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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