Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Treatment for brain tumors

Specific treatment for brain tumors will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history.
  • Type, location and size of the tumor.
  • Extent of the condition.
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the condition.
  • Your opinion or preference.

Treatment may include (alone or in combination):

  • Surgery – usually the first step in the treatment of brain tumors. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while maintaining neurological function. A biopsy also is done to examine the types of cells the tumor is made of for a diagnosis. This is frequently done if the tumor is in an area with sensitive structures around it that may be injured during removal.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery – a new technique that focuses high doses of radiation at the tumor site, while sparing the surrounding normal tissue, with the use of photon beams from a linear accelerator or cobalt X-rays.
  • Steroids – to treat and prevent swelling especially in the brain.
  • Anti-seizure medication – to treat and prevent seizures associated with intracranial pressure.
  • Placement of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt (also called a VP shunt) – a tube that is placed into the fluid-filled spaces of the brain called ventricles. The other end of the tube is placed into the abdomen to help drain excess fluid that can build up in the brain and cause an increase in pressure in the brain.
  • Lumbar puncture/spinal tap – to test pressure in the central nervous system, to look for suspicious cells, and give medication if needed.
  • Bone marrow transplantation.
  • Supportive care – to minimize the side effects of the tumor or treatment.
  • Rehabilitation – (to regain lost motor skills and muscle strength; speech, physical and occupational therapists may be involved in the health care team.
  • Antibiotics – to treat and prevent infections.
  • Continuous follow-up care – to manage disease, detect recurrence of the tumor and to manage late effects of treatment.

Experimental therapies that may be used to treat brain cancer include gene therapy — a special gene is added to a virus that is injected into the brain tumor. An antivirus drug is then given which kills the cancer cells that have been infected with the altered virus.