How brain tumours are treated

Treatments used for brain tumours include surgeryradiotherapy and chemotherapy. You may have a combination of treatments. Your treatment depends on:

A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your doctor or specialist nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions. You may have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.

Treating low-grade (grade 1 and 2) tumours

If the tumour is not causing you problems, your doctor may suggest delaying treatment until it is needed. They will arrange for you to have regular scans to check the tumour and will monitor your symptoms carefully. This is called active monitoring.

If you need treatment, you may have surgery to remove the tumour. This may be all the treatment you need.

Some types of tumour have a higher risk of coming back after surgery, or of developing into a high-grade tumour. To reduce this risk, your doctor may advise you to have radiotherapy or chemotherapy after surgery. Some people may have both treatments.

If surgery is not possible because of where the tumour is in the brain or if it cannot be completely removed, you may have radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or both.

Treating high-grade (grade 3 and 4) tumours

High-grade tumours grow more quickly and need to be treated straight away. If surgery is possible, the surgeon will remove as much of the tumour as they can. After surgery, you will usually have radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or both.

When surgery is not possible, the main treatment is usually radiotherapy. This could be with or without chemotherapy. Some people may have chemotherapy alone as their main treatment.

Treating rare brain tumours

Some rare brain tumours are treated in other ways. For example, CNS lymphomas and some types of pineal region tumours,are usually treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. You may have a biopsy to diagnose these tumours, but you are not likely to need surgery to remove them. We have more information about rarer tumours.

Treating brain tumour symptoms

When you are diagnosed, you may need treatment for symptoms before you have any treatment for the tumour. You may also need help managing your symptoms during your main treatment, or for a while after it has finished. Symptoms can be caused by the tumour or they may be from treatment.

Symptoms can be difficult to cope with, but they can usually be controlled. Sometimes this is called supportive treatment. It may include taking anti-sickness drugs and painkillers.

You may need drugs called anti-convulsants to prevent seizures. You may also need steroids to reduce swelling around the tumour.

Or you may have surgery to place a long thin tube called a shunt into the brain to drain fluid away.  This reduces the pressure inside the skull.

Sometimes a brain tumour cannot be removed or controlled anymore. If this happens you can still have treatment for any symptoms. You will have supportive care (sometimes called palliative care) from a specialist doctor or nurse who is an expert at managing symptoms.

We have more information about coping with advanced cancer.

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