Chemotherapy is a combination of drugs that target rapidly dividing cells. The drugs kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Chemotherapy is often used for fast growing tumors. It may be used to treat brain tumors:
Most chemotherapy is delivered to the blood stream through an IV. However, most chemotherapy drugs can not get to the brain because of the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from harmful substances in the regular blood flow, but it can also make some treatments (like chemotherapy) more difficult. To treat brain tumors, chemotherapy may be:
It is delivered in cycles over a set period of time. A medical oncologist will determine how many cycles of chemotherapy are needed and what combination of drugs will work best. Though it may be used in a variety of cancers, lymphomas or medulloblastomas may have best response to chemotherapy.
There are a variety of chemotherapy drugs. The choice and combination of drugs will be based on the type and location of the brain tumor. Not all brain tumors respond to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs for brain tumors may include:
Though the drugs are targeted to brain tumor cells, they can affect healthy cells as well. The death of cancer cells and impact on healthy cells can cause a range of side effects. A medical oncologist will work to find the best drug combination and dosage to have the most impact on the cancer cells and least impact on healthy tissue. Side effects or complications from chemotherapy may include:
A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. In some cases, the chemotherapy regimen may be adjusted to reduce severe side effects. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.
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Brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003088-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 18, 2015.
Brain and spinal cord tumors in children. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003089-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 18, 2015.
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Last reviewed May 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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