Brain Tumor (cont.)
In this Article
- Brain tumor (primary) definition and facts*
- What are the parts of the brain?
- Brain tumor types
- Types of primary brain tumors
- Brain tumor grades
- What are the causes and risk factors for brain tumors?
- What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?
- How are brain tumors diagnosed?
- What about a second opinion for brain tumor treatment?
- What is the treatment for a brain tumor?
- What type of surgery is available for brain tumors?
- Radiation therapy for brain tumors
- Chemotherapy for brain tumors
- Nutrition during brain tumor treatment
- What supportive care is available for patients and caregivers?
- What about rehabilitation after brain tumor treatment?
- What about follow-up care after brain tumor treatment?
- Sources of support
- Taking part in cancer research
- Head and Neck Cancer Quiz FAQs
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
Radiation therapy for brain tumors
Radiation therapy kills brain tumor cells with high-energy x-rays, gamma rays, or protons.
Radiation therapy usually follows surgery. The radiation kills tumor cells that may remain in the area. Sometimes, people who can't have surgery have radiation therapy instead.
Doctors use external and internal types of radiation therapy to treat brain tumors:
- External radiation therapy: You'll go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. A large machine outside the body is aimed to direct beams of radiation at either the whole brain or more commonly, at specific portions of the brain. Some people need radiation aimed at the spinal cord also. The treatment schedule depends on your age, and the type and size of the tumor. Fractionated external beam therapy, in which small doses or fractions of radiation are given usually once each day, is the most common method of radiation therapy used for people with brain tumors. Giving the total dose of radiation over several weeks helps to protect healthy tissue in the area of the tumor. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks. A typical visit lasts less than an hour, and each treatment takes only a few minutes.
Some treatment centers are studying other ways of delivering external beam radiation therapy:
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy or 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy: These types of treatment use computers to more closely target the brain tumor to lessen the damage to healthy tissue.
- Proton beam radiation therapy: The source of radiation is protons rather than X-rays. The doctor aims the proton beam at the tumor. The dose of radiation to normal tissue from a proton beam is less than the dose from an X-ray beam.
- Stereotactic radiation therapy: Narrow beams of X-rays or gamma rays are directed at the tumor from different angles. For this procedure, you wear a rigid head frame. The therapy may be given during a single visit (stereotactic radiosurgery) or over several visits.
- Internal radiation therapy (implant radiation therapy or brachytherapy): Internal radiation isn't commonly used for treating brain tumors and is under study. The radiation comes from radioactive material usually contained in very small implants called seeds. The seeds are placed inside the brain and give off radiation for months. They don't need to be removed once the radiation is gone.
Some people have no or few side effects after treatment. Rarely, people may have nausea for several hours after external radiation therapy. The health care team can suggest ways to help you cope with this problem. Radiation therapy also may cause you to become very tired with each radiation treatment. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise people to try to stay as active as they can.
Also, external radiation therapy commonly causes hair loss from the part of the head that was treated. Hair usually grows back within a few months. Radiation therapy also may make the skin on the scalp and ears red, dry, and tender. The health care team can suggest ways to relieve these problems.
Sometimes radiation therapy causes brain tissue to swell. You may get a headache or feel pressure. The health care team watches for signs of this problem. They can provide medicine to reduce the discomfort. Radiation sometimes kills healthy brain tissue. Although rare, this side effect can cause headaches, seizures, or even death.
Radiation may harm the pituitary gland and other areas of the brain. For children, this damage could cause learning problems or slow down growth and development. In addition, radiation increases the risk of secondary tumors later in life.
You may want to ask your doctor these questions about radiation therapy:
- Why do I need this treatment?
- When will the treatments begin? When will they end?
- How will I feel during therapy? Are there side effects?
- What can I do to take care of myself during therapy?
- How will we know if the radiation is working?
- Will I be able to continue my normal activities during treatment?
Chemotherapy for brain tumors
Chemotherapy, the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, is sometimes used to treat brain tumors. Drugs may be given in the following ways:
- By mouth or vein (intravenous): Chemotherapy may be given during and after radiation therapy. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. They may be given in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Rarely, you may need to stay in the hospital. The side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Common side effects include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, headache, fever and chills, and weakness. If the drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. Some side effects may be relieved with medicine.
- In wafers that are put into the brain: For some adults with high-grade glioma, the surgeon implants several wafers into the brain. Each wafer is about the size of a dime. Over several weeks, the wafers dissolve, releasing the drug into the brain. The drug kills cancer cells. It may help prevent the tumor from returning in the brain after surgery to remove the tumor. People who receive an implant (a wafer) that contains a drug are monitored by the health care team for signs of infection after surgery. An infection can be treated with an antibiotic.
You may want to ask your doctor these questions about chemotherapy:
- Why do I need this treatment?
- What will it do?
- Will I have side effects? What can I do about them?
- When will treatment start? When will it end?
- How will treatment affect my normal activities?
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