Radiotherapy for primary brain tumours

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy tumour cells. Newer ways of giving radiotherapy can treat a primary brain tumour whilst causing as little damage as possible to nearby healthy areas.

Radiotherapy can be given:

  • as your main treatment
  • after surgery if a tumour cannot be completely removed
  • after surgery to reduce the risk of the tumour coming back
  • with chemotherapy if you have a high-grade glioma
  • if a tumour comes back.

Different types of radiotherapy include:

  • Standard radiotherapy – you have a series of short daily sessions on weekdays over two to six weeks.
  • Stereotactic radiotherapy – you have a series of sessions or a single treatment. This treatment gives a higher and very precise dose of radiotherapy to the tumour. 

Your radiotherapy plan may depend on the type and size of the tumour. Your cancer doctor will explain what to expect. You may need to wear a mask during radiotherapy. This keeps your head still so that the treatment is and effective. The mask is measured and made for you before treatment starts.

Radiotherapy to treat primary brain tumours

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy the tumour cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. Newer ways of giving radiotherapy to the brain are designed to limit the damage to healthy brain tissue.

We have more detailed information on radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy can be given:

  • as your main treatment
  • after surgery if a tumour cannot be completely removed
  • after surgery to reduce the risk of the tumour coming back
  • with chemotherapy if you have a high-grade glioma
  • if a tumour comes back.


Standard radiotherapy

You have treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department as a series of short, daily sessions. The sessions are usually given from Monday to Friday, with a rest at the weekend. Some people only have treatment three days a week. Your treatment may last from two to six weeks depending on the type of tumour and its size. Your cancer doctor (clinical oncologist) will discuss the treatment plan with you before you start.


Stereotactic radiotherapy

This type of radiotherapy delivers a higher dose of radiation than standard radiotherapy. It uses many smaller, thin radiotherapy beams from different angles which cross at the tumour. The tumour itself receives a high dose of radiation. But areas nearby are only affected by the individual low dose beams. This lowers the risk of damage to normal tissue and can reduce side effects.

There are different types of machine used to give stereotactic radiotherapy. Treatment is sometimes referred to by the brand name of the machine, such as Gamma Knife or CyberKnife.

Stereotactic treatment is available in some specialist hospitals. It is not a suitable treatment for everyone with a brain tumour. It may be used to treat smaller tumours that cannot be removed with surgery. Your cancer doctor can tell you if this is a suitable treatment for you.

Stereotactic radiotherapy for brain tumours can be given as a series of sessions or as a single treatment. When it is given as a single treatment, it may be called radiosurgery.


Radiotherapy masks

You may need to wear a light-weight mask that covers your face and the front of your head when you have radiotherapy. The mask helps to keep your head and neck still to make sure the treatment is as accurate and as effective as possible. It is usually made from a plastic mesh or clear plastic (Perspex®) and moulded to fit the shape of your face. You will have it made before your treatment is planned.

Before you start treatment, the radiographer gently places the mask over your face and fixes it to the table. You only have it on for a few minutes during your treatment and you can breathe normally while you are wearing it. The mask should be tight but not uncomfortable. If it is uncomfortable, tell the staff so that they can adjust it. Most people cope well with the support of the radiotherapy team. If you feel claustrophobic or nervous, tell them so they can help you.

We have more information about radiotherapy masks. Call us on 0808 808 00 00 or visit be.macmillan.org.uk and we can send you the information you need.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.