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  • Writer's pictureGregory Cannarsa, MD

Brain Tumor Radiation Therapy: A Comprehensive Overview

Key Takeaways

  • Radiation therapy is a versatile tool in the treatment of brain tumors, used both as an adjuvant to surgery and as a standalone treatment.

  • Multiple types of radiation therapy exist, each with its pros and cons.

  • Side effects are generally manageable and vary depending on the type and location of the tumor and the kind of radiation used.

Radiation therapy is a critical component in the multidisciplinary treatment of brain tumors. While surgery may remove the bulk of a tumor, radiation is often employed to target residual cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. This article covers different types of radiation therapy for brain tumors, its benefits, risks, and what patients can expect during treatment.

The Role of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy or damage cancer cells. For brain tumors, it serves various purposes:

  • Adjuvant Therapy: Used post-surgery to kill remaining cancer cells.

  • Primary Therapy: For tumors where surgery is not advisable.

  • Palliative Care: To alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

Types of Brain Tumor Radiation Therapy

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)

The most common form involves directing a beam of radiation at the tumor from outside the body.

  • 3D-CRT: Three-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy uses CT scans to shape the radiation beams to the tumor.

  • IMRT: Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy allows for varying the intensity of radiation beams.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)

High doses of radiation are targeted precisely at the tumor, sparing surrounding tissues. Suitable for small, well-defined tumors.

Proton Therapy

Uses protons rather than X-rays, allowing for a more precise delivery of radiation.


Radioactive material is directly implanted into the tumor. This is rarely used for brain tumors.

Brain Tumor Radiation Therapy Risks and Side Effects

  • Cognitive Decline: Memory and thinking skills may be affected.

  • Fatigue: A common side effect during and after treatment.

  • Skin Irritation: Redness and soreness are common in the treated area.

What to Expect During Treatment


  • Imaging: Detailed MRI or CT scans for planning.

  • Consultation: Discussion about treatment options, potential side effects, and treatment schedule.

During Treatment

  • Setup: Patients lie on a table, often with a special mask to hold the head steady.

  • Duration: Each session usually takes a few minutes, with a typical course lasting several weeks.


  • Follow-up: Regular imaging and consultations to assess treatment efficacy.

  • Supportive Care: Rehabilitation services to manage side effects and improve quality of life.

Future Innovations

Emerging techniques like AI-based treatment planning and FLASH radiotherapy, which delivers ultra-high doses in fractions of a second, are under study for their potential to improve outcomes and minimize side effects.

For more information, consult other authoritative resources like the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider for personalized treatment options.


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