Brain cancer treatment
Treatment for brain cancer will depend on the size and position of a tumour and the overall health of the person with cancer.
In some cases, brain surgery can be used to remove tumours or parts of tumours, while in other cases radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of treatments may be recommended.
Brain cancer treatment overview
Treatment of brain cancer is usually complex. Most treatment plans involve several consultants.
- The team of doctors includes neurosurgeons (specialists in the brain and nervous system), oncologists, radiotherapy oncologists (doctors who practise radiotherapy), and, of course, your GP. Your team will also include a dietitian, a social worker, a physiotherapist and, probably, other specialists.
- The treatment protocols vary widely according to the location of your tumour, its size and type, your age, and any additional medical problems you may have.
- The most widely used treatments are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In some cases, more than one of these is used.
Brain cancer surgery
Most people with a brain tumour undergo surgery.
The reasons for surgery are to confirm that the abnormality seen on the brain scan is indeed a tumour and to remove the tumour. If the tumour cannot be removed, the surgeon will take a sample of the tumour to identify its type.
In some cases, mostly in benign tumours, symptoms can be completely cured by surgical removal of the tumour. Your neurosurgeon will attempt to remove the tumour if it is possible.
- Stereotactic surgery is a newer "knifeless" technique that destroys a brain tumour without opening the skull. CT or MRI scanning is used to pinpoint the exact location of the tumour in the brain. High-energy radiation beams are trained on the tumour from different angles. The radiation destroys the tumour. This technique is sometimes called "gamma knife."
- The advantages of "knifeless" procedures are that they have fewer complications and the recovery time is much shorter.
You may undergo several treatments and procedures before surgery.
- You may be given a steroid drug to relieve swelling.
- You may be treated with an anticonvulsant drug to relieve or prevent seizures.
If you have excess cerebrospinal fluid collecting round your 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 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.
Brain cancer radiotherapy
Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays to destroy tumour cells and stop them from growing and multiplying.
- Radiotherapy is sometimes used for people who cannot undergo surgery. In other cases, it is used after surgery to destroy any tumour cells that may remain.
- Radiotherapy is a local therapy. This means that it affects only the cells targeted. It does not harm cells elsewhere in the body or even elsewhere in the brain.
Radiotherapy can be administered in one of two ways.
- External radiation uses a high-energy beam of radiation targeted at the tumour. The beam travels through the skin, the skull, healthy brain tissue, and other tissues to get at the tumour. The treatments are usually given five days a week for about 4-6 weeks. Each treatment takes only a few minutes
- Internal or implant radiation uses a tiny radioactive capsule that is placed inside the tumour itself. The radiation emitted from the capsule destroys the tumour. The radioactivity of the capsule decreases a little bit each day; the amount of radioactivity of the capsule is carefully calculated to run out when the optimal dose has been given. You need to stay in hospital for several days while receiving this treatment.