Brain Cancer Treatment Options

Health Writer
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When you’re diagnosed with brain cancer, you’re overwhelmed and confused. You receive information on different types of treatment, which may all sound frightening, and yet you need to decide what to do. Keep reading to find out about more about treatments available for brain cancer.


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What affects the kind of treatment you should have?

The type of brain cancer treatment you will get is based on several factors:

  • The type, location, and size of the tumor
  • Whether the tumor is likely to recur or spread to other parts of the body
  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Your ability to tolerate different treatments

After a thorough evaluation, your doctor will discuss which treatments will work best for you.


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Watch and wait

For low-grade tumors that are slow-growing, your doctor might suggest a watch and wait approach, monitoring your condition with regular scans and bloodwork but not starting any treatment unless the tests show the cancer is getting worse. This can be hard for patients to endure, because they want to take action to get rid of the cancer, but for some cases, it is the best approach.


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Surgery

Surgery can help diagnose as well as treat brain tumors. If imaging tests show a brain tumor may be present, doctors will try to take a tissue sample through a hole in the skull, sometimes using video-assisted equipment. Once the brain tumor type is diagnosed, doctors may perform surgery to remove some or all of the tumor, reduce fluid build-up, or apply chemotherapy directly to the brain. New surgery techniques may allow the doctor to operate through the nasal passages.


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Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses x-rays and other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells or slow down the growth of a tumor. One of the risks of radiation is that it can kill healthy cells as well as cancer cells. New technology is allowing doctors to use targeted radiation which lowers the risk of damage to the brain tissue surrounding the tumor.


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Chemotherapy

Some oral and intravenous chemo drugs can be used to treat brain cancer, but many drugs are unable to travel from the bloodstream into the brain to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy for brain tumors is mostly used together with other treatments such as radiation or surgery. However, doctors may use chemo on its own to treat advanced or recurrent tumors.


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Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies work differently from regular chemotherapy drugs, by interacting with specific molecules to prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading, instead of killing healthy and cancerous cells alike. Although new targeted therapies to treat brain cancer are still being researched, the ones that are available may work when traditional chemotherapy doesn’t.


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Tumor treating fields

Tumor treating fields, continually generated by small devices taped to the scalp, emit mild electrical pulses which penetrate the skull and slow cancer cells’ ability to grow and spread, without hurting normal cells. Tumor treating fields therapy, which can help extend survival, can be used in combination with chemotherapy, and has gentler side effects than other treatments.


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Tumor vaccines

Despite the name, tumor vaccines are not meant to prevent tumors. These treatments stimulate the immune system to attack an existing brain tumor. This type of treatment is still in the research stage and is only available through clinical trials.


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Getting a second opinion

Many people decide to get a second opinion after a cancer diagnosis. A second opinion can be helpful to confirm an uncertain  diagnosis, explore different treatment options, or consult a specialist in your particular condition. While many insurance companies will pay for a second opinion, it is a good idea to contact your insurance company first to find out if there are conditions prior to them paying both doctors.