Treating symptoms

You may have symptoms caused by the tumour or as a result of treatment. These can usually be controlled. Your doctor may give you anti-sickness drugs or painkillers, or other drugs called steroids or anti-convulsants. Always take your drugs as prescribed by your doctor.

Steroids reduce swelling around the tumour. This can reduce symptoms caused by pressure in the skull and help you feel better. Steroids can also cause some side effects including indigestion, weight gain or difficulty sleeping. Your doctor will explain what to expect. It is very important to take steroids as prescribed by your doctor. Never stop taking them suddenly. This may make you very ill.

If you have had seizures (fits), you may be given anti-convulsants to control them. There are different types of anti-convulsants. You may have to try a few types to see what works best for you. Different anti-convulsants can cause different side effects. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have side effects so they can help.

Treating symptoms

You may have symptoms caused by the tumour or as a result of treatment. Although symptoms can sometimes be difficult to cope with, they can usually be controlled. Sometimes this is called supportive treatment. This may include anti-sickness drugs and painkillers. But you may also have drugs such as steroids to reduce swelling or anti-convulsants to prevent seizures (fits).


Steroids

Doctors often prescribe drugs called steroids to reduce the swelling around brain tumours. They improve the symptoms caused by the increased pressure and make you feel better. There are different steroid drugs. One called dexamethasone is often used.

You may have steroids before, during and after your main treatment. It is important to take them exactly as your doctor has explained. Your pharmacist or nurse will give you a steroid card. Always carry this card with you so that in any possible emergency a doctor will know you are taking steroids.

Never stop taking your steroids suddenly as this can make you very ill. Your doctor will give you advice about gradually reducing the dose when it is time to stop taking them.

Side effects

Steroids can cause the following side effects:

  • indigestion – take your tablets with food and tell your doctor if you have tummy pain as they may prescribe drugs to help or prevent this
  • increased appetite and weight gain – if you are worried about gaining weight, talk to your doctor or nurse
  • difficulty sleeping – taking your tablets in the morning may help you sleep better
  • feeling restless or agitated – let your doctor know if this is a problem
  • raised blood sugar levels – you will have regular blood or urine tests to check this.

Taking higher doses of steroids for a longer time may cause more side effects. These can include mood changes or feeling low, swollen feet and legs, and raised blood pressure. You may be more likely to get an infection. Your muscles may get weaker, especially at the tops of your legs. So it’s important to do some regular, gentle exercise.

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you are worried about any side effects. These will go away gradually as your doctor reduces your steroid dose.


Anti-convulsants

If you have had seizures, your specialist doctor will usually prescribe drugs called anti-convulsants (also called anti-epileptics). There are different types and some people may need more than one type. Sometimes it can take a while to get the right drugs or dose to control the seizures.

The following anti-convulsants are often used:

  • levetiracetam (Keppra®)
  • sodium valproate (Epilim®)
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal®)
  • clobazam
  • carbamazepine (Tegretol®)
  • phenytoin (Epanutin®)
  • topiramate.

Side effects

These will depend on the type of drug you take. Your doctor or nurse will explain the likely side effects to you. Some possible side effects are feeling sick, dry mouth, dizziness, diarrhoea or constipation.

If you have a skin rash, contact the hospital straight away. It can be a sign of an allergic reaction. Side effects usually settle after the first few weeks. If they don’t, talk to your doctor as they may be able to give you a different drug.

It’s important to take your anti-convulsants exactly as your doctor has prescribed. Some anti-convulsant drugs make the oral contraceptive pill less effective. In this situation, you should also use another method of contraception. Your nurse can give you more information about this.

Back to Supportive therapies

Steroids

Steroids can be used as part of cancer treatment, or to help with the side effects of treatment.