Brain Cancer Treatments

Treatments for brain cancer typically fall into three categories:

1) Surgery
2) Radiation Therapy (also called Radiotherapy)
3) Chemotherapy

While each of these treatments present their own risks and side-effects, radiation therapy can produce the most devastating injuries especially in younger patients.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer.  A linear accelerator (LINAC) is most commonly used for external beam radiation treatments.  Radiation also may be delivered with radioactive sources that are placed inside the patient (brachytherapy).

The high doses of radiation that damage or destroy cancer cells can also injure or kill normal cells and cause treatment side effects. Such injuries can include: DNA damage, necrosis (tissue death), and blood vessel injuries which can lead to memory, vision, and hearing loss, cognitive impairments, loss of IQ, endocrine and growth problems, and even secondary cancers.


Chemotherapy can also be highly toxic.  In treating brain tumor patients, two approaches are often used:

1) Relatively high systemic doses (administered through a catheter) in an attempt to have some percentage of the drug pass the blood brain barrier.  (The blood brain barrier is a protective network of blood vessels and cells that filters blood flowing into the brain.)

2) Intrathecal chemotherapy in which drugs are injected directly into the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid).

Since chemotherapy is toxic, these drugs can lead to cellular, tissue, and organ damage especially to the heart, liver, and kidneys.  In addition, since many chemotherapy drugs are carcinogenic their administration can also increase the likelihood of getting a secondary cancer. 

If you are curious as to whether your “aggressive” brain cancer or your child’s “high grade” brain cancer was improperly diagnosed take the quiz.

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