Brain Tumor Treatment Overview
The treatment for a brain tumor is determined depending on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Doctors also asses the overall health, age and other medical conditions of the patient. Treatment is often complex and involves many consulting doctors. The most commonly used treatment methods are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Sometimes a combination of the above is used for brain tumor treatment.
Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill tumor cells. This prevents the tumor from growing. Radiotherapy is a local therapy that directly targets the affected tissues. Radiation therapy can be used to destroy tumors that cannot be removed surgically. It can also be used after surgery to destroy any tumor cells that might have been left behind.
There are two types of radiation therapy, namely; external and internal (or implant) radiation. To deliver external radiation therapy, a beam of high energy rays are aimed at the tumor and has to travel through the skin, skull, healthy brain tissue and all the other tissues that lie in its path to reach the tumor. The treatment lasts a few minutes and is administered for a few days to a week.
Internal or implant radiotherapy places a tiny capsule that emits radioactive rays inside the tumor. This then emits rays that destroy the tumor. The amount of material placed is carefully calculated so that it slowly delivers the optimum dose before it runs out. This treatment requires a hospital stay of several days.
A type of radiation treatment called Stereotactic Radiosurgery or in layman’s terms knifeless surgery is a method where radiation is used to destroy the tumor without invasive surgery. In this treatment, the exact location of the tumor is pinpointed by an MRI scan or CT scan and the tumor is targeted by beams of powerful radiation from multiple angles to destroy the tumor. This method has shorter recovery time and lesser potential complications than traditional invasive surgical methods of tumor removal.
Chemotherapy is the method in which powerful drugs are used to destroy tumor cells. These drugs are administered by an IV line or orally. In some cases, the drugs are administered through the shunt that has been placed to drain excess fluid from the brain.
Chemotherapy is provided in cycles. Each cycle has a short period of intensive treatment alternating with a period of rest after which another cycle begins. Each cycle is usually planned to last a few weeks. Two to four cycles are administered in most cases. After chemotherapy, the tumor is studied to comprehend the extent to which it has responded to the drugs. Chemotherapy has many side effects that are experienced and tolerated in varying intensity by different people. The most common side effects of chemotherapy are loss of hair, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite and sores in the mouth. Some of the side effects can be improved with treatment for the same.
Surgery for a brain tumor could be performed to either confirm and study the tumor or to remove it. Before brain surgery, the patient is given a steroid to relieve any swelling as well as an anticonvulsant drug to prevent or relieve seizures. If there is excessive cerebrospinal fluid, the surgeon may place a thin plastic tube at the cavity where the fluid is collected to drain it. This tube is called a shunt. When the tumor is removable, the surgeon will attempt to remove all the parts of the tumor. If the tumor is not removable, a sample of the tumor will be taken for further study to identify the type of tumor. Benign tumors are usually cured by surgical removal.
The Road To Recovery: What To Expect
A patient who has undergone treatment for a brain tumor takes time to heal and recover. The time and effort taken for recovery depend on the type of treatment, location of the tumor, area of the brain tissue affected by treatment as well as the age and health of the patient.
Brain tumors and their treatment can cause emotional, thought and behavioral challenges. Support groups and therapy might be recommended for patients to recover mentally and emotionally from the overwhelming after-effects of the treatment. Rehabilitation therapy might be required for patients to relearn how to perform tasks. Fatigue is also a common complaint during the recovery from brain surgery and plenty of rest would be required to recover energy levels.