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Brain Tumour Treatment

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

Your consultant will be able to advise treatments relevant for your tumour type and site

Specialists (which may be a neurosurgeon in combination with an oncologist/radiologist) will determine the most suitable treatment based on:

  • the type of brain tumour
  • the grade of the tumour -- if it is malignant
  • the position of the tumour – how near it is to vital or delicate parts of the brain
  • the general health of the patient

The main treatments for brain tumours are:

Surgery
Surgery is usually the first step in the treatment of both benign and primary malignant brain tumours.  The goal is to remove as much of the tumour as possible while maintaining neurological function.  Surgery for a biopsy is also done to examine the types of cells the tumour is made of for a diagnosis.  This is frequently done if the tumour is in an area with sensitive structures around it that may be injured during removal.

Radiotherapy
This therapy involves using high energy beams of radiation which are focused onto the cancerous tissue.  This kills the cancer cells or stops them from multiplying.  Radiotherapy is sometimes used instead of surgery when an operation is not possible for a malignant brain tumour, or to kill cancerous cells which may be left behind following surgery.

Steroids
Steroids are commonly given to reduce and prevent inflammation around a brain tumour.  This reduces the pressure inside the skull, which helps to ease headaches and other ‘pressure’ symptoms.  Painkillers may also be needed to ease headaches.

Ventriculoperitoneal shunt (Also called a VP shunt)
A VP shunt may be placed in the head to drain excess fluid from inside the brain thereby helping to control the pressure inside the brain.

The VP shunt is a surgically placed tube connected from the ventricles of the brain which deposits fluids into the abdominal cavity, heart or large veins of the neck.

Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is a treatment which uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, or to stop them from multiplying.  It may be used in addition to other treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy, particularly to help relieve symptoms in advanced brain tumours or brain tumours that have come back. 

It is difficult for most chemotherapy drugs to get into the brain to reach the cancer cells because many drugs cannot get from the bloodstream into the central nervous system across the ‘blood-brain barrier’.  There are some chemotherapy drugs which can cross the blood-brain barrier and other drugs can be injected into the fluid inside the spine, which circulates around the brain.

Anti-seizure medication
If the tumour causes seizures then anticonvulsant medication will usually control them.

Clinical trials
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial as for some, this may be the best treatment choice.  Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are conducted to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

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