Medications for Brain Tumors

Here is some information about the medicines used to treat brain tumors. Only the most basic problems are listed. Ask your doctor if there are any other steps you need to take. Use each of these medicines as advised by your doctor or package instructions. If you have any questions, call your doctor.

Brain tumors and how they’re treated cause symptoms. These medicines will help you manage them.

Prescription Medicines

Corticosteroids

  • Dexamethasone

Anti-seizure Medicines

  • Levetiracetam
  • Carbamazepine
  • Valproic acid
  • Phenytoin

Pain Relievers

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in higher doses:

  • Indomethacin
  • Naproxen
  • Celecoxib

Opioids

Over-the-counter Pain Relievers

  • Aspirin
  • NSAIDs in lower doses
  • Acetaminophen

Prescription Medicines

Corticosteroids

  • Dexamethasone

These are used to ease swelling in the brain. This will help with head pain. This is a common problem with brain tumors.

Possible side effects:

  • Feeling of hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Acne
  • Weak muscles—mostly noted getting up after sitting or going up stairs
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Achy joints
  • Higher chances of ulcers or osteoporosis

They may be used for a short time. Your doctor will tell you how to taper off these medicines.

Anti-seizure Medicines

  • Levetiracetam
  • Carbamazepine
  • Valproic acid
  • Phenytoin

These are chosen based on comparing the risks and benefits.

Many of these medicines can mix with other ones you take.

Possible side effects for carbamazepine:

  • Bone marrow damage
  • Mental status changes
  • Rashes or serious skin reactions
  • Low sodium level in the blood— hyponatremia

Possible side effects for valproic acid:

  • Liver damage
  • Damage to the baby in the uterus if pregnant
  • Pancreatitis
  • Platelet count that is too low—thrombocytopenia
  • Tiredness, sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion, belly pain, loss of hunger
  • Vision problems
  • Hair loss
  • Respiratory infection
  • Weight gain
  • Rashes

Possible side effects for phenytoin:

  • Mental status changes
  • Rashes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Liver and bone marrow damage
  • Gum swelling

Possible side effects for levetiracetam:

  • Mental status changes
  • Irritability
  • Loss of contact with reality— psychosis
  • Rashes

Pain Relievers

NSAIDs in higher doses, including:

  • Indomethacin
  • Naproxen
  • Celecoxib

Each NSAID has a slightly different make up and side effects. NSAIDs are used mainly to control pain. They help control swelling, but not as well as the steroids.

Possible side effects:

  • Stomach irritation, ulcers, and bleeding
  • Allergic reactions
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage

Opioids

  • Codeine
  • Pentazocine
  • Morphine
  • Meperidine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydromorphone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone

There is no substitute for opioids to treat severe pain. But, these drugs are addicting and the risk for opioid use disorder is high.

Possible side effects:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchiness
  • Constipation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Breathing problems
  • Taking too much—can lead to death

Over-the-counter Pain Relievers    TOP

  • Aspirin
  • NSAIDs in lower doses
  • Acetaminophen

Possible side effects:

  • Stomach irritation
  • Ulcers
  • Bleeding
  • Allergic reactions
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage

Acetaminophen is the common pain reliever used for mild to mid-level pain. Allergic reactions that damage blood cells or rashes can happen. Liver damage can happen if you take too much.

Special Considerations    TOP

If you are taking medicines, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medicine as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
  • Do not share your prescription medicine.
  • medicines can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medicine, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills as needed.

References:

About brain tumors. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at: https://www.abta.org/about-brain-tumors. Updated August 9, 2018.
Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated May 13, 2016. Accessed August 9, 2018.
Meningioma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116926/Meningioma . Updated January 19, 2017. Accessed August 9, 2018.
Other drug treatments for adult brain and spinal cord tumors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/treating/other-drug-treatments.html. Updated November 8, 2017. Accessed August 9, 2018.
Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors. Updated June 2018. Accessed August 9, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 8/9/2018

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