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What are the Different Types of Brain Tumor Treatments?

By L. Burgoon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The different types of brain tumor treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Patients additionally may be prescribed medications or participate in alternative therapies such as acupuncture or meditation. Doctors will often devise a treatment plan that involves a combination of these options. Specific treatments also depend on the tumor’s location, size and rate of growth, as well as the patient’s health, age, and medical history.

Surgery is the most common brain tumor treatment when the tumor can be easily removed. Tumors treated by a surgical intervention tend to be on the outer membranes covering the brain because this area is easily accessible and less likely to cause neurological damage. Neurosurgery may be a good treatment option for gliomas, which are primary brain tumors that originate in either the brain or spinal cord tissue instead of those that have spread from another part of the body. This makes it more likely that surgery will remove all of the cancerous cells at once.

Radiation therapy is second to surgery as the most common brain tumor treatments. Radiation may be a better option when the tumor is inaccessible or when surgery will cause neurological damage. In this form of treatment, the tumor is subjected to intense rays to damage the cancerous cells, slow growth, and shrink it. The treatment may call for external radiation, where a machine aims the rays at the tumor. Patients may instead receive internal radiation, where the tumor is injected with radioactive material.

Chemotherapy is the third common form of the types of brain tumor treatment. Chemotherapy involves one or more drugs used to kill cancer cells. The drugs may be taken orally, injected intravenously, or injected directly into the tumor. In the case of brain tumors, chemotherapy drugs sometimes are injected into the cerebrospinal fluid.

Brain tumor patients may take additional, non-chemotherapy medications to treat the cancer. Such medications to treat the side effects of other treatments or the tumor itself. Steroids, for instance, may reduce brain swelling and often are used presurgically to prepare the patient for an operation. Other brain tumor patients may need anti-seizure medications, especially if the brain tumor’s placement puts a patient at risk for seizure activity.

Alternative therapies can complement traditional medical brain tumor treatments. Acupuncture — inserting needles into pressure points on the body — may relieve pain or help with the emotional effects of brain tumors. Yoga, relaxation, meditation and visualization also may alleviate emotional effects or aid in pain management. While these alternative approaches can be excellent complements to other brain tumor treatments, they should not be used alone to effectively treat a brain tumor.

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