Each year about 18,000 Americans and their families hear a diagnosis of neurological cancer. That means a cancer tumor has been found in the brain, spine or another part of the nervous system. Tumors can originate in the brain (primary) or originate from other cancers in the body (metastatic).
An early question the patient will likely ask is: “How is it treated?” The patient’s answer will be developed by our multidisciplinary cancer care team.
This is a group of health care clinicians with different specialties. The team comes together to help ensure each patient gets the best care and support available. The team may include medical oncologists, neuro-oncologists, surgical and radiation oncologists, oncology nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, therapists, counselors and social workers.
The team’s treatment recommendations will be based on several factors:
The treatment plan will also include ways to manage symptoms and side effects. This is called palliative care. The goal is to ease discomfort, improve quality of life and support you and your family throughout treatment.
Treatment can include:
Surgical treatment is normally the first step for neurological cancer. A neurosurgeon will perform the procedure.
New imaging technology allows surgeons to accurately map the location of the tumor. This improves the chances that the surgeon will be able to remove all the tumor.
If you have a low-grade tumor, removal surgery may be all the treatment you need.
If all the tumor can’t be removed because it’s too close to vital parts of the nervous system, the team may recommend radiation or chemotherapy as the next step.
A radiation oncologist performs this procedure. Radiation therapy has two variations the oncologist may choose from:
Radiation therapy may be combined with chemotherapy for maximum impact.
A neuro-oncologist or medical oncologist will administer special drugs to kill tumor cells that may remain after surgery or cells that can’t be reached by radiation therapy. Chemotherapy drugs typically slow or stop cancer cell growth.
These drugs are ordinarily given as a pill or capsule. Sometimes, Intravenous or drug administration directly into the cerebral spinal fluid is necessary. Also, we recommend to our patients new experimental drugs currently on clinical trials
In some cases, the drug will slow tumor growth and reduce cancer symptoms. Drug side effects can include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and hair loss. The side effects normally go away when the treatment is done.
4. Cancer Immunotherapy
Another treatment option, cancer immunotherapy, uses your body’s own natural defenses to fight cancer. This treatment stimulates your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. The advantage is it can work without harming healthy tissues. We can either boost your natural immune system or give your immune system additional man-made cancer fighting proteins to help get the job done. Immunotherapy’s success varies depending on the type of cancer.
Some patients will wrap up their cancer treatments with rehabilitation therapy.
5. Rehabilitation Therapy
Physical therapists will help you recover life skills that may be affected by the cancer or treatment. Rehabilitation therapy includes help with balance, walking, eating and going to the bathroom. Therapy can also help recover abilities such as meal prep and getting dressed. We’ll tailor the therapy to each individual’s needs. In fact, each treatment step is tailored by your cancer care team to your needs.
If you or someone you care about has had a cancer diagnosis, your health care clinician can help you connect with treatment professionals that will focus on giving you the optimal treatment options. If you’d like to visit with a clinician, you can make an appointment or find a provider online.