Treatment

Treatment decisions should be made after you have learned all you can about brain tumour diagnosis, prognosis, and available treatment options.

This can take time, depending on the type of brain tumour you have.

Not all brain tumours are treated the same way. Your health care team will suggest the best possible plan for you based on the type of brain tumour, size, location and considering factors such as your age and general health.

A variety of therapies are used to treat brain tumours.

Three standard treatments exist for primary malignant brain tumours:

  1. Surgery
  2. Radiation therapy
  3. Chemotherapy

For some low-grade brain tumours, a wait-and-see approach may be suggested to monitor any changes in the tumour and/or if symptoms are not bothersome.

Surgery

Not all people with brain tumours require surgery. For some the tumour may be located in a part of the brain that would cause more damage, for some the specialists may decide to ‘watch and wait’ to see if the tumour grows or changes.

For those who do have surgery, there are two main types, a biopsy to take a small amount of the tumour tissue to determine the type of tumour, or resection of the tumour to remove as much of the mass as possible.

Depending on the location of the tumour, you may be awake throughout the surgery. If this is the case, you will be made to feel comfortable throughout the procedure. This enables the surgeon to assess your functions, such as speech or movement, to cause as little damage as possible while removing the maximum amount of tumour.

After surgery, you will be moved to the recovery room, and from there to the neurosurgery ward and will likely spend a day or two in hospital to recover.

Please call your team or return to the hospital if:

  • You have a fever
  • Your incision is red, inflamed, or leaking fluid
  • You become confused or weak
  • You develop headaches, slurred speech, or changes in your ability to walk
  • You have a seizure

Radiation Therapy

Therapeutic radiation is similar to that of diagnostic X-rays (e.g., chest X-ray) but of much higher energy and similar to an X-ray as it cannot be seen or felt. Radiation therapy works by destroying tumour cells by inducing damage to their inner structure (DNA). The cells die when they attempt to reproduce (divide) because the DNA is damaged and are then absorbed into the body.

Not all tumour cells are sensitive enough to the radiation, and this is why tumour cells can grow back or the tumour does not shrink completely. We are limited in the amount of radiation that can be delivered to the tumour because of the surrounding normal brain tissue, as normal brain tissue cells will also be exposed to the radiation as a consequence of targeting the tumour.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the term given to drugs that treat cancer. While non-malignant brain tumours are not cancerous, sometimes chemotherapy may be prescribed. Chemotherapy can be given either orally or intravenously. Your oncologist will give you detailed information about your chemotherapy treatment and potential side effects. Your pharmacist may also be able to answer your questions.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary therapies are products and practices used along with conventional medical treatment. Alternative therapies are treatments used instead of conventional treatment. If you choose to use a CAM therapy or a CAM practitioner in conjunction with your treatment plan, it is important to tell your health care team. Knowing all the therapies you are using, including CAM, allows your health care team to provide care that is comprehensive and safe.

Cannabis

Used to relieve seizures, nausea, and pain, it can also assist with sleep and for some of the symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as night terrors. There is contradictory evidence, however, if cannabis may help with the anxiety and depression experienced by some patients. Much more research is needed to understand what types of cannabis, potency and dose are most effective.  If you decide to use cannabis, while we wait for research on cannabis to take place, we urge you to talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner (NP) to ensure you receive regular follow-up and monitoring of any side effects.

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trials have allowed the medical community to improve treatments and the quality of life of patients everywhere. Clinical Trials may be evaluating a completely new way of treating brain tumours, may be developing different ways to administer an existing treatment or looking at new combinations of drugs. This is all done with a focus on improving the quality of life for those affected. Clinical trials may not yield favourable results, but with each trial, important questions may be answered and progress is made.

Participation in clinical trials is voluntary. Your oncologist or surgeon may approach you about participating, or you can ask your health care team if a clinical trial is open or expected to open for someone in your situation.

Recovering from Treatment

It may take longer than you might expect to recover from your treatment, and you may feel fatigued. Try to rest as much as possible.

You should contact your medical professional or health care team immediately if you notice new symptoms or changes in your current condition.

Three Brain Tumour Handbooks

More detail can be found in our handbooks

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