In brain tumor care, different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatment. This is called a multidisciplinary team. Cancer care teams also include a variety of other health care professionals, including physician assistants, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and others.
Descriptions of the most common treatment options for a brain tumor are listed below, including treatments that help manage symptoms. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors:
- The size, type, and grade of the tumor
- Whether the tumor is putting pressure on vital parts of the brain
- If the tumor has spread to other parts of the CNS or body
- Possible side effects
- The patient’s preferences and overall health.
Some types of brain tumors grow rapidly; other tumors grow slowly. Considering all these factors, your doctor will talk with you about how soon treatment should start after diagnosis.
Treatment options include those described below, such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of your medical care.
For a low-grade brain tumor, surgery may be the only treatment needed especially if all of the tumor can be removed. If there is visible tumor remaining after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be used. For higher-grade tumors, treatment usually begins with surgery, followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Your exact treatment plan will be made by your health care team.
Successfully treating brain tumors can be challenging. The body’s blood–brain barrier normally protects the brain and spinal cord from harmful chemicals entering those structures through the bloodstream. However, this barrier also keeps out many types of chemotherapy. Surgery can be difficult if the tumor is near a delicate part of the brain or spinal cord. Even when the surgeon can completely remove the original tumor, there may be parts of the tumor remaining that are too small to be seen or removed during surgery. And, radiation therapy can damage healthy tissue.
However, research in the past two decades has helped to significantly lengthen the lives of people with brain tumors. More refined surgeries, a better understanding of the types of tumors that respond to chemotherapy, and more targeted delivery of radiation therapy have lengthened lives and improved the quality of life for many people diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment.
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