Brain Cancer Treatment
Discovering a brain tumor is overwhelming, and it’s natural to want the most advanced and effective treatment available. In order to effectively fight the disease, the treatment of brain tumors often requires combinations of several types of strategies to either shrink or remove the tumor, as well as potentially minimize side effects or pain of the tumors themselves.
Treatment options can include:
- Surgery to remove tumors
- Traditional radiation therapy
- Radiosurgery including CyberKnife Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
Surgery to treat brain cancer
For singular tumors not near the brain’s most critical structures – such as those regulating breathing or involved in vision – typical treatment involves surgically removing the tumor.
Surgery is a common treatment for cancerous primary brain tumors, such as a glioblastoma multiforme, as well as solitary brain metastases and benign tumors. Surgery is often followed by whole-brain radiation or partial-brain radiation techniques to eliminate any microscopic bits of the tumor.
In some cases, oncologists (cancer doctors) combine chemotherapy and surgery when treating malignant brain tumors for greater effect.
Traditional radiation therapy for brain cancer
This involves small doses of radiation in many treatments over several weeks to the whole brain or large portions of it. Traditional radiation therapy has been used for decades to treat brain metastases and primary brain tumors, either after surgery or alone if surgery is not possible. The side effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting, steroid side effects (due to steroid use to manage the side effects such treatments cause), hair loss, and sometimes decreased hearing and other neurological side effects. The most distressing side effect of whole brain radiation that can often can occur after treatment is a decline in the patient’s ability to think, which is similar to dementia.
Chemotherapy brain cancer treatment
Chemotherapy medication is delivered in a variety of ways. Most commonly, either orally (by taking pills), injected into the skin or muscle, or through an IV (intravenous) infusion, in which a liquid form of the medicine flows slowly through a tube into a vein in the arm, either slowly or in timed doses.
Chemotherapy affects both healthy tissue and cancer cells, so patients often experience side effects, such as severe nausea and vomiting, infections, fatigue and weight loss.
Brain cancer patients typically receive chemotherapy in combination with other types of brain cancer treatment. For example, it may be given to target both the metastatic tumors in the brain and the tissues outside the brain that originally produced the cancer cells.
Radiosurgery for brain cancer treatment
In the last three decades, an advanced technology known as radiosurgery has emerged as an alternative to surgery for several types of cancer.
Unlike conventional radiation therapy, in which small doses of radiation are dispensed over weeks and months, radiosurgery can treat a tumor in one to five sessions using a high dose of radiation with extreme accuracy.
During radiosurgery, hundreds of narrow radiation beams attack the tumor from different angles. This precise treatment targets the tumor without damaging the surrounding healthy brain tissue.
In order to be effective and safe, radiosurgery must be accurate. To achieve this accuracy, some radiosurgery devices, such as the Gamma Knife, require a rigid device called a stereotactic frame to hold a patient’s head so the system can pinpoint the exact tumor location. After local anesthesia is given, a specialist screws these frames into a patient’s skull. Patients sometimes find these frames uncomfortable and painful. In addition, if multiple treatment sessions are required, the patient may have to be hospitalized with the frame in place for several days until the treatment is complete.
Fortunately, other radiosurgery devices have eliminated the need for stereotactic frames. This includes the CyberKnife, which enables doctors to achieve a high level of accuracy non-invasively and allows patients to be treated on an outpatient basis.
Patient preference: CyberKnife vs. GammaKnife
Anova Cancer Care has treated several patients with the CyberKnife after they had been treated with the GammaKnife. They commonly say that if they need more treatment in the future they would always prefer to be treated with the CyberKnife.
It is common for patients to experience no side effects after 1 to 5 treatments of CyberKnife radiosurgery. Sometimes a single dose of steroids, which can cause side effects, may be given after a single fraction treatment but most of the time steroids aren’t needed. Headaches and nausea side effects are rare. If there is any hair loss at all it tends to be mild and patchy, and patients never lose all of their hair.
The most significant difference between traditional whole brain radiation and CyberKnife is that CyberKnife does not affect the patient’s ability to think.
Patients who have their brain metastases treated with the CyberKnife enjoy a much better neurological quality of life than patients who undergo whole brain treatment with traditional radiation therapy.