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What Are the Treatments for a Head Tumor?

By Amanda Livingstone
Updated May 17, 2024
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Treatments for a head tumor vary depending on the location, size and the type of tumor present. Tumors that are noncancerous or benign generally are treated with surgery. Malignant or cancerous tumors will most likely be treated with a combination of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.

Benign and malignant tumors can occur in any part of the head including the skull and surrounding tissue, such as muscle and skin. Tumors that occur inside the skull are generally referred to as brain tumors. Some of the most common head tumor sites are the paranasal sinuses, ears or nasal cavity. Unlike benign tumors, malignant tumors can begin in the head area and can quickly infiltrate the skull and reach the brain. An example of a highly aggressive and invasive head tumor is called a glioma.

A glioma originates in the human brain from glial cells. These cells serve many important functions, including support and protection for the brain’s neurons. The tumor can quickly spread from the glial tissues to the skull and surrounding areas. Squamous cell malignancies are another common type of head cancer. They originally form in the skin cells and later metastasize to other head structures such as muscle, soft tissue and bone.

In both types of malignancies, early detection is key for long term survival. The first step to diagnosing and treating a head tumor is with a physical examination followed by diagnostic tests. Once the location, size and type of tumor is identified, a treatment plan can be implemented. Malignant conditions such as gliomas and squamous cell cancer are usually treated with surgery, radiation and powerful cancer-fighting drugs such as chemotherapy.

Traditional tumor removal surgery can be done with operable benign and malignant tumors. Malignant head tumors that have spread to the brain often benefit from computer-assisted neurosurgery, intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (iMRI) and brain mapping. Computer-assisted brain surgery and iMRI both involve the use of advanced imaging equipment in order to precisely remove tumor tissue. In brain mapping surgery, patients are awake and respond to a series of questions. Each response helps the surgeon to determine which areas need surgery.

Radiosurgery is often used in cases where malignant head tumors are not operable due to size or location. The surgery involves high doses of radiation that conforms to the tumor shape. Unlike conventional surgery, radiosurgery is not invasive and requires less time and money to perform. Another essential cancer treatment is radiation therapy. Radiation therapy differs from radiosurgery by delivering lower doses of radiation over a course of weeks.

Drugs and chemotherapy are usually combined with other malignant tumor fighting therapies mentioned above. Chemotherapy works by targeting and killing rapidly dividing cancer cells. Someone with an advanced or rare malignant head tumor is encouraged to participate in clinical trials. In order to participate in a drug trial, patients must qualify for the related study.

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