If doctors determine that you have a brain tumor, the treatment options and prognosis are based on many factors including tumor type, location and size of the tumor, grade (how aggressive it appears), molecular characteristics of your tumor, your age and your overall health. Depending upon these and other factors, surgery, radiation therapy and/or medical therapy (chemotherapy) may be treatment options.
Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the careful use of high-energy X-rays or particles to safely and effectively treat brain tumors. Radiation works noninvasively within tumor cells by damaging their ability to grow. Healthy cells near the tumor may be affected by radiation, but they are able to repair themselves in a way tumor cells cannot. Radiation therapy can be used after surgery, or in some cases, instead of surgery. Ask your radiation oncologist about whether radiotherapy could be helpful for your treatment.
For many brain tumors, surgery is an important part of treatment. A neurosurgeon may perform a surgical biopsy to determine what kind of tumor you have. Sometimes only a part of the tumor can be safely removed in order to minimize the effects on your normal functioning, while other times all of the visible tumor can be safely removed. The extent of surgery is mainly based on the location of the tumor. Depending on your tumor, surgery may be the only treatment needed. However, radiation is often used after surgery to lessen the chances of the tumor coming back in the same place or growing in another part of the brain. Ask your surgeon about the type and extent of surgery that is recommended for you.
Anti-cancer drugs known as chemotherapy may be given in addition to radiation to make treatment more effective or instead of radiation. Chemotherapy has the ability to destroy cancer cells by different methods. Depending upon the kind of drug best suited for your kind of brain tumor, chemotherapy may be given as a pill or through an intravenous (IV) line directly into your bloodstream on a set schedule. Chemotherapy can be given before, during or after radiation therapy. The type of chemotherapy you receive may be dependent on the molecular characteristics of your tumor. For more details about chemotherapy or other medications, ask your medical oncologist or neuro oncologist which medications may be best for you.
For patients with high-grade primary brain tumors (glioblastoma multiforme or GBM) or primary brain tumors that come back after initial treatment, an external treatment device that delivers a low-voltage electric field around the tumor area may be part of your treatment plan. The tumor fields (TTFs) made by this system prevents the growth of cancer cells and works in a different way than radiation and chemotherapy.