Treatment & Diagnosis
Specific treatment for neurological cancer is based on several factors including a patient’s overall health and medical history; the type, location, and size of the tumor; the extent of the condition; and other individual factors.
Generally, treatment for patients with cancer of the brain or spinal cord includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or 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 shunt (to help drain excess fluid in the brain); lumbar puncture/spinal tap (to measure pressure in the spinal cord and brain); bone marrow transplantation; rehabilitation (to regain lost motor skills and muscle strength); and/or antibiotics (to treat and prevent infections).
Surgery is 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 is also done to examine the types of cells the tumor is made of for a diagnosis.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. These drugs may be given into a vein or by mouth, as a tablet.
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors. Radiation therapy may be delivered externally through a machine or internally through an implant in the brain.
Two experimental therapies, stereotactic radiosurgery (also called Gamma knife) and gene therapy also may be used to treat brain cancer. Stereotactic radiosurgery uses a special machine to focus high doses of radiation at the tumor site, while sparing the surrounding normal tissue. Gene therapy involves adding a special gene 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.