Brain tumors may be treated with radiosurgery, surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Depending on the patient’s needs, a combination of methods may be used. Patients may be referred to doctors who specialize in different kinds of treatment and work together as a team.
Stereotactic radiosurgery, or Gamma Knife radiosurgery, is one way to treat brain tumors. Treatment is delivered in a single session and is performed on an outpatient basis. Gamma rays are aimed at the tumor from many angles. At the intersection of the gamma rays, a high dose of radiation reaches the tumor without damaging healthy brain tissue. Patients have a benefit of a rapid return to daily activities. Gamma Knife radiosurgery may also be used in addition to other treatments.
Craniotomy, or open surgery, is another treatment for brain tumors. To surgically remove a brain tumor, a neurosurgeon makes an opening in the skull. Whenever possible, the surgeon attempts to remove the entire tumor; however, if the tumor cannot be completely removed without damaging vital brain tissue, the doctor removes as much of the tumor as possible. Partial removal may help to relieve symptoms by reducing pressure on the brain and reduces the amount of tumor to be treated by radiosurgery or chemotherapy. Some tumors cannot be removed. In such cases, the doctor may perform a biopsy. A small piece of the tumor is removed so that a pathologist can examine it under a microscope to determine the type of cells it contains. This helps the physician decide a course of treatment.
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, is the use of high-powered rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. It is often used to destroy tumor tissue that cannot be removed with surgery or to kill cancer cells that may remain after surgery. Radiation therapy may also be used when surgery is not possible or the tumor volume is too large for radiosurgery.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The doctor may use a single drug or a combination of drugs administered by mouth or by injection into a blood vessel or muscle. Intrathecal chemotherapy involves injecting the drugs into the cerebrospinal fluid. Chemotherapy is usually given in the cycle of treatment followed by a recovery period. Patients often do not need to stay in the hospital for treatment. Most drugs can be given in the doctor’s office or an outpatient clinic.