Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. They enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. It may be used:
After surgery—to kill any leftover tumor cells
With radiation therapy if surgery can’t be done
For cancer that spreads to the brain from other sites
Chemotherapy is most often given through an IV. It's done in cycles over a set period. But, most can't get to the brain because of the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from harm. It can make getting medicines harder.
Other methods to get chemotherapy:
Intrathecal—Placed into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The medicines will be able to reach the tumor inside the BBB.
Direct contact—A wafer is placed on or next to the tumor during surgery. The wafer dissolves over time.
There are many kinds of chemotherapy drugs. The choice will be based on the type of tumor and where it's found. Chemotherapy drugs from brain tumors may include:
Carmustine (BCNU) or lomustine (CCNU)
Side Effects and Management
Chemotherapy causes a range of health problems. The most common are:
There are many ways to manage these problems. Medicines and lifestyle changes are the most common. In some cases, the cycles may be changed to lower the chances of serious problems. Talk to your healthcare team as soon as these appear so they can be better controlled.
Chemotherapy for adult brain and spinal cord tumors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/treating/chemotherapy.html. Updated November 8, 2017. Accessed August 10, 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 10, 2018.
Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/patient/adult-brain-treatment-pdq#section/_102. Updated July 5, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
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