The three main treatments are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which are described below in more detail, along with some other forms of treatment.
Surgery: surgery is commonly the first step in the treatment of both benign and primary malignant brain tumours. The aim is to remove as much of the tumour as possible while maintaining neurological function. Surgery for a biopsy is also undertaken to examine the types of cells that the tumour is made of for a diagnosis. This is frequently done if the tumour is in an area with sensitive structures around it that may be injured during removal.
Radiotherapy: this course of action involves using high energy beams of radiation which are focused onto the cancerous tissue. This kills the cancer cells or stops them from multiplying. Radiotherapy is sometimes used instead of surgery when an operation is not possible for a malignant brain tumour, or to kill cancerous cells which may be left behind following surgery.
Chemotherapy: chemotherapy is a treatment which employs anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, or to stop them from multiplying. It may be used in addition to other treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy, particularly to help relieve symptoms in advanced brain tumours or brain tumours that have returned. It is difficult for most chemotherapy drugs to get into the brain to reach the cancer cells because many drugs cannot get from the bloodstream into the central nervous system across the ‘blood-brain barrier'. There are some chemotherapy drugs which can cross the blood-brain barrier and other drugs can be injected into the fluid inside the spine, which circulates around the brain.
Steroids: steroids are commonly given to reduce and prevent inflammation around a brain tumour. This reduces the pressure inside the skull, which helps to ease headaches and other ‘pressure' symptoms. Painkillers may also be needed to ease headaches.
Anti-seizure medication: if the tumour causes seizures then anticonvulsant medication will usually control them.
Ventriculoperitoneal shunt (also called a VP shunt): a VP shunt may be placed in the head to drain excess fluid from inside the brain, thereby helping to control the pressure inside it. The VP shunt is a surgically placed tube connected from the ventricles of the brain which deposits fluids into the abdominal cavity, heart or large veins of the neck.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial as for some, this may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process and are conducted to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective, or better than the standard treatment.
Information on Treatments
For more information on treatments, try the following online organisations and resources: