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  • Writer's pictureGregory Cannarsa, MD

Brain Tumor Chemotherapy: Understanding its Role and Effectiveness

Key Takeaways

  • Chemotherapy plays a significant role in the comprehensive treatment of brain tumors.

  • Various types of chemotherapy drugs are available, chosen based on the type and stage of the tumor.

  • While effective, chemotherapy comes with its set of risks and side effects that require careful management.

Chemotherapy, often referred to as chemo, is a widely used treatment approach in oncology, including brain tumor management. It involves the use of drugs to kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In this guide, we will discuss the role of chemotherapy in treating brain tumors, the different types available, its benefits, and risks, as well as what to expect during treatment.

Importance of Chemotherapy in Brain Tumor Treatment

Chemotherapy serves multiple roles in brain tumor management:

  • Adjuvant Therapy: Often used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

  • Primary Treatment: For some inoperable tumors or tumors sensitive to chemotherapy.

  • Symptomatic Relief: Helps in reducing symptoms and improving the quality of life.

Types of Chemotherapy for Brain Tumors

Alkylating Agents

  • Temozolomide (Temodar): Most commonly used for treating glioblastoma.

  • Carmustine (BCNU): Sometimes used in wafers implanted during surgery.


  • Methotrexate: Used in certain types of lymphoma affecting the brain.

  • 5-Fluorouracil: Less commonly used but effective for certain tumors.

Targeted Therapy

  • Bevacizumab (Avastin): Targets the blood vessels that feed the tumor.

Combination Therapy

Combining multiple drugs or treatment modalities like radiation and chemotherapy for increased effectiveness.

Brain Chemotherapy Risks and Side Effects

  • Toxicity: Can affect healthy cells, leading to a host of side effects, some of which are listed below.

  • Neutropenia: Lowered white blood cell count.

  • Hair Loss: A common but temporary side effect.

  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

What to Expect During Treatment

Pre-Treatment Phase

  • Diagnostic Tests: Blood tests, imaging, and biopsies to ascertain the type and stage of the tumor.

  • Consultation: Discussing treatment options, schedules, and potential side effects with your oncologist.

During Treatment

  • Administration: Intravenous infusion, oral medication, or implanted wafers.

  • Monitoring: Regular blood tests and imaging to assess treatment effectiveness.


  • Recovery: Side effects might persist for a few weeks after the completion of treatment.

  • Follow-up: Ongoing check-ups and imaging tests to monitor for recurrence or complications.

Future Prospects for Brain Tumor Chemotherapy

Advancements in personalized medicine are making it possible to tailor chemotherapy to individual genetic profiles, thereby improving its efficacy and minimizing side effects.

For more information, visit other trusted resources like the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute. The fellowship-trained neurosurgeons at Apex Brain & Spine work with the region's leading medical oncologists to ensure your treatments include the most personalized, focused care. Call 239-422-2739 for a dedicated, personalized opinion from our fellowship-trained neurosurgeons.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider for the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plans tailored to your condition.


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