Redwood Caregiver Resource Center
141 Stony Circle, Suite 200
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 542-0282 or (800) 834-1636
Fax (707) 542-0552
Web: http://redwoodcrc.org Fact Sheet
Serving: Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma,
Napa & Solano Counties
A tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue which results Symptoms may vary by type and location of the
from the excessive multiplication of cells. A tumor brain tumor. They can include: severe headaches,
that originates in the brain is called a "primary" seizures, visual disturbances, motor weakness, sen-
brain tumor. Primary brain tumors may be either sory disturbances, language disorders, short term
benign or malignant. These tumors very rarely, if memory loss, personality changes, mood swings, in-
ever, metastasize (spread to other parts of the body). tellectual impairment, and endocrinological distur-
Metastatic brain tumors begin as a cancer elsewhere bances.
in the body then spread to the brain.
Facts Diagnosis of a brain tumor occasionally is difficult
According to the North American Brain Tumor because symptoms may be similar to those caused
Coalition, the estimated number of new cases of by other disorders. Making the diagnosis of a brain
primary brain tumors diagnosed each year is approx- tumor has been greatly simplified by the advent of
imately 40,000. Some research indicates that the CT scans and MRI scanning. Occasionally other
number of primary brain tumors are rising, particu- techniques like an arteriogram (shows the blood ves-
larly in the elderly. Primary malignant brain tumors sels in the brain) or sometimes an electroencephalo-
represent 2.4 percent of all deaths due to cancer in gram (measures the electrical activity of the brain)
the U.S. However, nearly half of all primary brain may be used in order to obtain more information
tumors are benign and can be successfully treated. about a lesion seen on a CT or MRI scan. Depend-
ing on tumor location and other factors, it may be
An additional 150-200,000 individuals are diag- important to analyze cerebrospinal fluid, obtained by
nosed with metastatic brain tumors. Metastatic brain a procedure called a lumbar puncture. This proce-
tumors appear to be increasing due largely to the im- dure, however, is usually avoided if there is any evi-
provements in treating systemic cancer. This is be- dence of increased pressure in the brain.
cause following treatment for systematic cancer,
stray cancer cells can find their way to the brain. Treatment
Brain tumors are usually classified by cell types. Various forms of treatment are available and are dis-
Certain types of primary brain tumors most com- cussed below.
monly occur in children while others occur more fre-
quently in adults. Adult brain tumors have their Surgery
highest incidence between the ages of 40 and 60 The first treatment of choice, depending on the loca-
years, with a slight preponderance in men. tion and size of the lesion, is surgical removal of as
much of the lesion as possible. If a total or partial re-
section is not in the patient's best interest, a biopsy
should be performed, to obtain tissue (cell) diagno-
sis, before proceeding with other forms of therapy. glialblastoma multiforme. This specifically worded
The removed tissue is analyzed in a pathology lab, FCA approval is for use in "patients with recurrent
and the diagnosis is made. The need for additional glialblastoma for whom surgery is otherwise indicat-
treatment depends upon the tumor type and the ed." This new chemotherapy technology delivers
amount of tumor that was successfully removed. chemotherapy directly to the tumor site. Up to eight
wafers are implanted into the site after the brain tu-
Surgery side effects should be discussed with the mor has been removed. The wafers slowly erode, de-
surgeon before the operation. Results vary, and side livering the treatment over 2-3 weeks. Studies have
effects are often temporary, but may be permanent. indicated a 50 percent higher survival rate at six
Side effects of surgery include the risks of infection, months for patients using Gliadel wafers.
blood clotting, seizures and, in some cases, in-
creased neurological deficit that may be temporary Immunotherapy
or permanent. This is a form of therapy aimed at activating the pa-
tient's own immune system in order to kill tumor
Radiation Therapy cells. This group of substances includes the interfer-
Conventional radiation therapy uses external beams ons, interleukins, growth factors and others. These
of either x or gamma rays aimed at the tumor. The forms of therapy are experimental and available
therapy is given over a period of several weeks. through some treatment centers on clinical protocol.
Other types of radiation also are available. One of Medications
these is interstitial radiation—implanting radioactive There are several groups of medications that one
seeds directly into a tumor. Another form of radia- may need during and after treatment of a brain tu-
tion, called radiosurgery, delivers a high, single dose mor. These include anticonvulsants to prevent
of radiation to a small, well-defined target. Another seizures, and steroids, such as prednisone and dex-
technique is photodynamic therapy. The machines amethasone, used throughout the treatment to reduce
are called x-knife (using the modified Linear Accel- the swelling around the tumor.
erator) or the gamma knife. A light sensitive drug is
given through a vein and concentrates in the tumor. Each physician has a preference of specific drugs
Then, during a surgical procedure, a special light ac- and will explain why these medications are needed,
tivates the drug. Also available are other forms of ra- even if only needed for a short period of time. Have
diation energy, dosages, and schedules. the physician, nurse or your pharmacist explain the
drug's potential side effects.
Side effects of radiation therapy may include hair
loss, skin irritation, fatigue and, rarely, increase of Side effects are increased appetite, weight gain,
pre-existing neurologic deficits. Side effects of radi- swelling of face and feet, nervousness or restless-
ation differ depending on many factors. These ness, trouble sleeping, blood sugar and hormonal
should be discussed with the radiation therapist. disturbances, and weakening of bones and muscles.
Chemotherapy Recommended Readings
Certain chemotherapeutic drugs have proven to be
effective in controlling the growth of a tumor for Navigating Through A Strange Land. A Book For
shorter or longer periods of time. Thanks to ongoing Brain Tumor Patients and Their Families, Patricia
research, there are a number of new drugs, drugs in Ann Roloff (Ed), 1995, Indigo Press, 109 Walnut
combinations, and treatment and modalities avail- St., San Francisco, CA 94118.
able to treat primary brain tumors.
Coping With a Brain Tumor Part I: From Diagno-
Side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs include nau- sis to Treatment and Part II: During and After
sea or vomiting, disruption of the production of Treatment, American Brain Tumor Association,
blood cells in the bone marrow, occasionally sore- 2720 River Road, Ste. 146, Des Plaines, IL 60018.
ness of the mouth or mouth ulcers and skin rash.
These side effects are usually reversible and may A Primer on Brain Tumors, Sixth Edition, Gail Se-
vary with each individual. gal, 1996, available from the American Brain Tumor
Association, 2720 River Road, Ste. 146, Des
In 1996 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Plaines, IL 60018.
(FDA) approved the Gliadel Wafer for use as an ad-
junct to surgery to prolong survival in patients with