Children with brain tumors face a variety of treatment options depending on the type, grade, size, and location of the tumor. Some brain tumors are treated with surgery, while others are cured by radiation or chemotherapy. Your child’s doctor will work closely with other physicians to develop a customized plan for your child’s unique situation.
Surgery (extirpation) is often the best option for many children with brain tumors. This is especially true for a brain tumor located in a difficult place to access. At MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Hospital, neurosurgeons use leading-edge equipment to help remove as much of the tumor as possible without damaging other brain parts.
Surgical extirpation is a highly effective treatment for some types of childhood brain tumors, such as low-grade glioma and high-grade glioma. For other types, such as medulloblastoma, surgery can be combined with other therapies, including radiation and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses radioactive material to kill cancer cells, especially those that have spread to other areas of the body. The radiation dose may be delivered in one treatment, called a single fraction, or across several treatments, called multifractions.
Side effects of radiation therapy are mild, and most go away after the treatment is finished. However, some long-term side effects of radiation therapy include memory and hormonal problems and cognitive changes, such as difficulty understanding complex tasks.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that destroy tumor cells or slow their growth and reproduction. The drugs are given with or after radiation and surgery to decrease the chances of a tumor returning.
Other medications are used to treat a brain tumor when it has spread or is not responding to radiation and chemotherapy, such as immunotherapy. This includes drugs like ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo), and pembrolizumab (Keytruda).
Immunotherapy is a new treatment that uses medication to stimulate the immune system’s ability to fight off tumors. It boosts the body’s natural defenses, such as T-cells and macrophages.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy that uses beams to target only the tumor in the brain, minimizing the risk of damage to other parts of the body. It is recommended for people with 1 to 4 brain tumors that are causing symptoms.
Whole brain radiation therapy
Whole-brain radiation therapy is a type of treatment that can be given to the entire brain, or it may be an option if other types of radiation therapy aren’t successful. It is usually used for people with up to 4 brain metastases and is more common in people in relatively good health who have had surgery to remove the tumors.
To sum it up
Your child’s doctor will talk with you about the benefits and risks of different medications, which are continually being tested. It is also essential to know that some medications can interact with other medicines, herbs, and supplements. These interactions can cause unwanted side effects or reduce the effectiveness of the drug.