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Brain cancer is the growth of abnormal brain cells. These cells damage nearby healthy cells. Tumors can also press on the brain and cause symptoms. This makes it hard for the brain to work the way it is supposed to.

General treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy (chemo), or other medicine. Other treatments can help with speech, walking, or other problems.

Steps to Take

Further Evaluation

Brain cancer is graded from 1 to 4. Grade 1 is the slowest growing and may not spread. Grade 4 grows and spreads the fastest.

Testing will help find the grade of brain cancer. This helps with finding the best treatment. It may include:

  • Imaging tests—Helps find the type of cancer based on how it looks on the screen.
  • Biopsy—Tissue is removed and looked at in a lab.

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the type of brain cancer, its grade, and where it is found. It may include 1 or more of these:

  • Surgery to remove part or all cancer if it can be done
  • Radiation to kill leftover cancer from surgery, slow or shrink the tumor, or ease symptoms caused by the tumor
  • Chemo to slow growth or shrink the cancer
  • Medicine to ease brain swelling, prevent seizures, prevent blood clots or other problems caused by the cancer

Some brain cancers cannot be treated. Treatment may focus on comfort measures and having as good a quality of life as possible.

Your care team will help with:

  • Alternative therapies to ease symptoms
  • Relaxation therapies to lower stress
  • Changing your daily routine if you are tired because of treatments

Support

A brain cancer diagnosis and treatment can be stressful. Seek support from people in your family, friends, counselors, and support groups. Ask your care team about programs close to where you live.

Palliative care may also be recommended. This is a special team that help people who have serious illnesses. They can help you guide care according to your wishes and suggest support options.

Follow-up

Tests are done to check the cancer and how treatment is working. Treatment may be changed based on test results. It is important to go to all recommended appointments.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occur

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Headaches—usually worse in the morning and worsen over time
  • Seizures
  • Lasting nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness or twitching in the arms or legs
  • Loss of feeling in arms or legs
  • Body swelling
  • Problems with:
    • Walking
    • Seeing
    • Speaking
    • Memory
  • Sleepiness
  • Personality changes
  • Signs of infection such as fever or chills
  • Lightheadedness

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES

American Brain Tumor Association  https://www.abta.org 

American Cancer Society  https://www.cancer.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Cancer Society  http://www.cancer.ca 

Cancer Care Ontario  https://www.cancercareontario.ca 

References

Astrocytoma and oligodendroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116413/Astrocytoma-and-oligodendroglioma-in-adults . Updated August 9, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2020.

Brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults.html. Accessed April 4, 2020.

Brain tumor education. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at: https://www.printfriendly.com/p/g/vXRUpC. Accessed April 4, 2020.

Brain tumors in adults. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated November 2, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2020.

Glioblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116413/Astrocytoma-and-oligodendroglioma-in-adults . Updated March 18, 2019. Accessed April 4, 2020.

Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors. Updated June 2018. Accessed April 4, 2020.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA
  • Review Date: 05/2020
  • Update Date: 06/30/2020