Brain Tumor Treatments & Surgery

A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in your brain or close to your brain.
Many different types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are noncancerous (benign), and some brain tumors are cancerous (malignant). Brain tumors can begin in your brain (primary brain tumors), or cancer can begin in other parts of your body and spread to your brain (secondary, or metastatic, brain tumors).
How quickly a brain tumor grows can vary greatly. The growth rate as well as location of a brain tumor determines how it will affect the function of your nervous system.
Brain tumor treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor you have, as well as its size and location.


Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary greatly and depend on the brain tumor's size, location and rate of growth.

General signs and symptoms caused by brain tumors may include:

  • New onset or change in pattern of headaches
  • Headaches that gradually become more frequent and more severe
  • Unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • Vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision
  • Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or a leg
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Speech difficulties
  • Confusion in everyday matters
  • Personality or behavior changes
  • Seizures, especially in someone who doesn't have a history of seizures
  • Hearing problems

Treatment

Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, size and location of the tumor, as well as your overall health and your preferences.

Surgery

If the brain tumor is located in a place that makes it accessible for an operation, your surgeon will work to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible.
In some cases, tumors are small and easy to separate from surrounding brain tissue, which makes complete surgical removal possible. In other cases, tumors can't be separated from surrounding tissue or they're located near sensitive areas in your brain, making surgery risky. In these situations your doctor removes as much of the tumor as is safe.
Even removing a portion of the brain tumor may help reduce your signs and symptoms.
Surgery to remove a brain tumor carries risks, such as infection and bleeding. Other risks may depend on the part of your brain where your tumor is located. For instance, surgery on a tumor near nerves that connect to your eyes may carry a risk of vision loss.


Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill tumor cells. Radiation therapy can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation), or, in very rare cases, radiation can be placed inside your body close to your brain tumor (brachytherapy).
External beam radiation can focus just on the area of your brain where the tumor is located, or it can be applied to your entire brain (whole-brain radiation). Whole-brain radiation is most often used to treat cancer that has spread to the brain from some other part of the body.
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type and dose of radiation you receive. Common side effects during or immediately following radiation include fatigue, headaches and scalp irritation.


Radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiosurgery is not a form of surgery in the traditional sense. Instead, radiosurgery uses multiple beams of radiation to give a highly focused form of radiation treatment to kill the tumor cells in a very small area. Each beam of radiation isn't particularly powerful, but the point where all the beams meet — at the brain tumor — receives a very large dose of radiation to kill the tumor cells.

There are different types of technology used in radiosurgery to deliver radiation to treat brain tumors, such as a Gamma Knife or linear accelerator (LINAC).
Radiosurgery is typically done in one treatment, and in most cases you can go home the same day.


Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill tumor cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally in pill form or injected into a vein (intravenously). The chemotherapy drug used most often to treat brain tumors is temozolomide (Temodar), which is taken as a pill. Many other chemotherapy drugs are available and may be used depending on the type of cancer.

Chemotherapy side effects depend on the type and dose of drugs you receive. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting and hair loss.


Targeted drug therapy

Targeted drug treatments focus on specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die.
One targeted drug therapy used to treat a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma is bevacizumab (Avastin). This drug, given through a vein (intravenously), stops the formation of new blood vessels, cutting off blood supply to a tumor and killing the tumor cells.
The targeted drug everolimus (Afinitor) is used to treat a benign brain tumor that occurs in people with a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis. Everolimus blocks an enzyme in the body that plays a role in the growth of cancer cells.