Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults

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Treating Brain/CNS Tumors In Adults TOPICS

How are brain and spinal cord tumors in adults treated?

General comments about treatment

Brain and spinal cord tumors can often be hard to treat and may require care from a team of different types of doctors. This team is often led by a neurosurgeon, a doctor who uses surgery to treat brain and nervous system tumors. Other doctors on the team may include:

  • Neurologist: a doctor who diagnoses brain and nervous system diseases and treats them with medicines
  • Radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
  • Medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancers
  • Endocrinologist: a doctor who treats diseases in glands that secrete hormones

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals.

Several types of treatment can be used to treat brain and spinal cord tumors, including:

Treatment is based on the type of tumor and other factors, and often more than one type of treatment is used. Doctors plan each person’s treatment individually to give them the best chance of treating the cancer while limiting the side effects as much as possible.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask to have it explained. (See the section “What should you ask your doctor about adult brain and spinal cord tumors?” for some questions to ask.)

If time permits, getting a second opinion from a doctor experienced with your type of tumor is often a good idea. It can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

The next few sections describe the various types of treatments used for brain and spinal cord tumors. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches used based on the type of tumor.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Last Medical Review: 03/05/2014
Last Revised: 01/21/2016