Alternative Treatment Options for Brain Cancer

Learning you have brain cancer can be an emotional process. But taking the time to learn about your condition and treatment options is a powerful way to help reduce some of the stress you may be feeling. It can help you have a deeper understanding during future conversations with your doctor and as you work together to develop the treatment plan that is right for you, allowing you to play a more active role in your care.

The following information dives into some of the treatment options for brain cancer that are alternatives to traditional radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the type of brain cancer you are diagnosed with, your tumor’s size and location and your overall health. Not all patients will be candidates for these brain cancer alternative treatment options, but it can be helpful to have an understanding of the possibilities before discussing your treatment plan with your doctor.

Targeted Therapy for Brain Cancer

You’re likely familiar with the concept of chemotherapy to treat cancer. Traditional cancer drugs can be used alone or in combination to destroy a tumor or prevent its growth. Cancer chemotherapeutic drugs often have severe side effects, making treatment very unpleasant.

Targeted therapy also uses drugs to treat cancer, but they are designed to target a specific gene, protein or other feature specific to tumors. Some targeted therapies are designed for a particular type of tumor in one area of the body, while others work in a more general fashion and can target cancerous tumors at different sites. One of the benefits of targeted therapy is the side effects of the drug are typically less severe because they are directing their action at such a tumor-specific feature.

Minimally Invasive Surgery for Brain Cancer

Sometimes surgical removal of a brain tumor is the recommended treatment option. Traditional surgery often involves a craniotomy, removal of a portion of the skull to access the tumor. However, new techniques are available to remove some brain tumors using a minimally invasive surgical approach. This is accomplished through specialized instruments and microscopic visualization, allowing the surgeon to create a smaller access hole and disturb less of the soft tissues and muscles.

Recovery is typically shorter and the risks are generally less when compared to traditional surgery. However, not every patient is a candidate for minimally invasive surgery and it may not be an effective treatment option for your type of brain cancer or because of its location or size. It will be up to your doctor to determine whether this is one of the brain cancer alternative treatment options that would be right for you.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Brain Cancer

You have probably heard of patients undergoing radiation therapy for brain cancer. During traditional whole-brain radiation, the entire brain is dosed with low doses of radiation over many sessions. This is the form of radiation therapy most patients are familiar with. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is also a form of radiation therapy, but the technology delivers treatment in a way that helps avoid many of the unpleasant side effects commonly associated with radiation treatment.

In contrast to traditional radiation therapy for brain cancer, Gamma Knife radiosurgery delivers focused treatment just to the area of interest – your brain cancer. Healthy surrounding tissues are spared, and your doctor can target your tumor with a precision of 0.15 mm, the width of a human hair. There is no hospital stay after treatment, and most patients are back to work and normal activities within a day or two.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be an excellent treatment option for many patients alone or in combination with other treatments, like surgery. In fact, it’s commonly used after brain cancer surgery to ensure any remaining cells are eradicated. Again, your doctor will need to determine whether you are a candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery, so be sure to ask for more information if that is a brain cancer alternative treatment option that interests you.

Find the Right Treatment for You

No two patients are exactly alike. Your doctor will work with you to develop the treatment plan that is right for you and your specific condition. He or she will consider factors like the type of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with, how many tumors are present, their size and location and any complicating health conditions you may have.

If your doctor has not discussed the brain cancer alternative treatment options outlined here, you may wish to bring them up at your next appointment. This is particularly important if you are looking for a minimally invasive treatment option and prefer to avoid traditional surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. You may not be a candidate for all the options outlined above, but your doctor can help walk you through each and explain why they may or may not be effective for your individual condition.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio is a board-certified neurosurgeon that specializes in Neurosurgery, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS) and more. He is the Director of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Program at The Valley Hospital. Dr. D’Ambrosio is an expert in treating patients with trigeminal neuralgia, benign or malignant brain tumors, as well as many other neurological conditions.

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