When surgery is not possible or not sufficient by itself, there are several categories of non-surgical or partially surgical treatments for brain tumors. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments may be used, as well as other treatments such as:

In addition, rehabilitation therapy may be necessary to manage the residual effects of a brain tumor.

Heat

Heat destroys tissue. Several characteristics of tumors make them more susceptible to heat damage than the surrounding normal tissues.

There are several effective ways to direct heat into tumors. Radiofrequency, microwave, ultrasound, and electromagnetic devices adapted to the task constitute an active area of research. Combined with surgical approaches and computerized mapping, these methods may provide effective new treatments.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to improve the way your body’s immune system fights disease. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against disease. A healthy and strong immune system can detect the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells. Biological therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can fight the cancer more effectively. These therapies can be used to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments.

A few of the most active areas of investigation in biological approaches to brain cancer treatment are:

Genetic Targets

Cancers all seem to require genetic damage to gain a foothold in the body. The cells either change to escape normal growth controls or the body loses an ability to control their growth. New techniques are under investigation that will repair damaged genes and incapacitate genes that facilitate tumor growth.

Cytokines

A number of hormones known as cytokines help your body fight disease and play a role in cell growth and destruction. Manipulating these cytokines has already proved useful in treating several chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Among the promising cytokine treatments for treating brain tumors are agents that will prevent a cancer from generating its own blood supply, as well as others agents that will encourage tumor cells to die.

Immunotherapy

The body's immune system is constantly searching for cancer cells to destroy. We now understand enough about the immune system to improve the accuracy of the search. Tumor-specific antibodies and enhancements to overall immune function are becoming available.

For more information on the use of biologic therapy for cancer treatment, see the biologic therapy treatment monograph.

Rehabilitation Therapy

Brain tissue may be damaged by your tumor or the techniques used to treat it. After your primary treatment plan is completed or well under way, you may be referred to rehabilitation to reestablish lost functions. This is hard work, but the reward is improved quality of life.

Rehabilitation therapy includes:

  • Physical therapy, which helps with walking, balance, and building strength.
  • Occupational therapy, which helps with mastering life skills, such as writing, dressing, eating, and personal hygiene.
  • Speech therapy, which helps you express thoughts and overcome swallowing difficulties.

When to Contact Your Health Care Provider

For people with brain tumors, everything that happens physically is potentially useful information. Keep a diary of any changes and speak regularly with your doctors.