Brain Tumor Treatment Options: Side Effects & Risks

Following your brain tumor diagnosis, the next step is to work with your doctor to develop the treatment plan that is right for you. Because no two patients are the same, the treatment path for your brain tumor may not be the same as another patient. Simply put, when it comes to brain tumors, there is no “one size fits all” answer.

Your doctor will take many factors into consideration before recommending a particular brain tumor treatment. This includes the type of brain tumor you have been diagnosed with, its size and location, and your personal health factors. Your doctor will also take into consideration all the side effects and risks of each brain tumor treatment option, something you may wish to know more about.

The following information is designed to help you understand the side effects and risks associated with common brain tumor treatments on a general level. However, depending on your individual diagnosis, your type of tumor may not be treatable with one of the options that follow. If you have a personal doctor in the northern NJ area, they will be the best person to discuss your specific brain tumor treatment options with you.

Surgery as Brain Tumor Treatment

Your doctor may recommend surgical removal, or resection, to remove as much of your tumor as possible. Sometimes tumors are very large and need to have a portion removed before utilizing radiation therapy to eradicate the remaining cells. A doctor may also recommend surgery for younger patients or if your tumor is in an easily accessible area.

If your doctor does recommend surgery, you will be asleep during your procedure and will need to stay in the hospital for about a week. Patients tend to be on restrictions, including staying home from work, for about 4-8 weeks, although this varies from patient to patient. Generally speaking, the risks and side effects of any surgery include:

  • Reaction to general anesthesia
  • Pain, swelling and infection at the incision site
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots and/or stroke
  • Transient or permanent nerve damage

Some of the risks related to surgery for brain tumor treatment depend on the specific type and location of your tumor. If your tumor is close to a nerve, a risk may include impaired function, such as facial muscle weakness or hearing loss. However, if the risk of damaging adjacent structures is too great, your doctor will not recommend surgery if there are other available treatment options.

Whole Brain Radiation Therapy as Brain Tumor Treatment

Whole brain radiation therapy has been used for many years for brain tumor treatment and is what many people think of when it comes to radiation therapy. This treatment method involves multiple sessions of low-dose radiation to the entire brain, typically spread over 10-15 sessions five days a week for two to three weeks.

While whole brain radiation therapy has been used as an effective treatment in the past, the side effects can be increased. Because whole brain radiation therapy delivers a radiation dose to the entire brain, it affects both the tumor and healthy brain tissue. As a result, patients tend to experience headaches, nausea, fatigue and cognitive effects that can be difficult to manage.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery as Brain Tumor Treatment

In contrast to whole brain radiation therapy, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery that is able to target your brain tumor specifically, avoiding damage to the surrounding healthy tissues. This is because the Gamma Knife system uses approximately 200 individual beams of radiation that can be precisely focused on just the area of interest.

The procedure itself typically only takes 15-60 minutes and is done in an outpatient setting, without the need for an overnight hospital stay. Patients typically return to work and normal activities within a couple of days. Your doctor may be able to treat your brain tumor in a single session, though some patients may require up to five sessions.

Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a form of radiation therapy, patients may experience side effects such as fatigue, nausea and headaches, particularly in the first few days. However, they are typically mild and transient, and your doctor can write you a prescription for medication to help you be more comfortable. A further side effect of Gamma Knife radiosurgery is delayed radiation effects that may occur approximately six months following your treatment. This simply means the tumor is responding to the treatment and any associated side effects can be managed using medications if needed.

Continue the Discussion

To best understand your individual condition and the risks associated with your upcoming brain tumor treatment, be sure to continue the discussion with your personal doctor. Remember that your doctor has taken all of these risks and side effects into consideration prior to making any treatment recommendations and would never suggest a treatment where the risks outweigh the benefits.

If you are still in the diagnosis and treatment planning phase and do not have a scheduled treatment yet, be sure that you are working with a neurosurgeon who has experience with your individual condition. There are brain tumor experts in the NJ area who have the knowledge and ability to recommend the most appropriate treatment based on your individual needs. It is worth seeking out someone you know you can trust, as it will allow you to rest easier throughout the entire treatment process.

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