Making a decision about treatment can feel overwhelming. In a short time, you are called upon to make critical decisions about your future, many of which are confusing and frightening. It is important to work together with your medical team to determine the best course of treatment for you.
To work more effectively with your health care team, you should keep a notebook and schedule planner to track daily questions, side effects, notes, and appointment information. It will be helpful to bring someone with you to your appointments in order to manage all of the information and emotions.
Also, you should know how to get your questions answered. Will there be enough time during appointments to talk through your questions? Should you schedule an additional appointment to ask questions? Ask these questions up front so you and your doctor can maintain a productive relationship.
Treatment for brain tumors is based on many factors, such as:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- The type, location, and size of the tumor
- How likely the tumor is to spread or recur
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Treatment for these symptoms may include:
- Antiseizure/Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs)
Often, low-grade tumors (grade I and II), which are not aggressive, are treated with watchful monitoring or surgery alone. Though all tumors are monitored with repeat scans, grade II tumors are watched more closely after surgery and over time to make sure there is no recurrence.
Higher grade tumors (grade III and IV), which are malignant and can grow quickly, are more difficult to remove and require additional treatments beyond surgery, such as radiation, chemotherapy, or a clinical trial if one is available. Microscopic tumor cells can remain after surgery and will eventually grow back. All treatments, therefore, are intended to prolong and improve life for as long as possible.
Additional treatment options for high-grade tumors include:
- Radiation therapy: X-rays and other forms of radiation can destroy tumor cells or delay tumor growth.
- Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to kill rapidly dividing cells. It can be taken orally or intravenously.
- Targeted therapy: The focus on a specific element of a cell, such as molecules or pathways required for cell growth, in order to use them as a target.
- Tumor Treating Fields: (A wearable device) locally or regionally delivered treatment that produces electric fields to disrupt the rapid cell division exhibited by cancer cells by creating alternating, “wave-like” electric fields that travel across their region of usage in different directions. Because structures within dividing cells have an electric charge, they interact with these electric fields.
If you feel uncertain about your initial diagnosis, recurrence, or response to treatment, it may be beneficial to consider a second opinion.
All brain tumor patients can develop a plan with their treatment team, not just for immediate treatment, but also for recovery and long-term management. This can include:
- Continuous follow-up care
- Supportive care/ Palliative care
When a person is unlikely to live longer than six months, hospice care is often recommended. It involves the care of all aspects of a patient and family’s needs. It is all about comfort. The care may be given at home, in a nursing home, or at a hospice facility. Usually multiple care providers are involved. Hospice providers work together to support the caregiver, meet the patient and family’s needs, and significantly reduce suffering for everyone.
Treatment Center Options
Choosing a treatment center can be difficult. There are many factors that patients and family members might want to consider, such as the center’s location, costs, and experience with treating brain tumors. These online resources may contain information to help you make the most informed decisions.
National Cancer Institute (NCI): An Internet portal for people to find NCI-designated cancer treatment centers, organized by state.
NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP): A list of community-based hospitals where patients can access NCI-sponsored clinical trials.
National Institutes of Health/NCI Neuro-Oncology Branch: The Neuro-Oncology Branch is a cooperative program between the NCI and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The branch hosts both clinical and research functions, treating patients, as well as conducting and facilitating research to find better treatments for brain tumors.
Society for Neuro-Oncology: A database of brain tumor centers, searchable by name of institution.
Becker’s Hospital Review: A select listing of hospitals with spine and neurosurgery programs, organized in alphabetical order by institution name.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America: A directory of treatment centers.
The Musella Foundation: An international list of centers.
National Brain Tumor Society cannot be responsible for content on these sites.
Clinical trials are studies designed to test the most promising new treatments. People participate in a clinical trial for a variety of reasons: to try a new and promising treatment method, to contribute to the development of future treatments, or to help find a cure. Most clinical trials require a patient to qualify with certain medical criteria. Some trials can be joined before your first surgery, others during radiation, others at the point of recurrence. You can ask your doctor if you are eligible for a trial, or get a second opinion at any time.