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What are the Pros and Cons of Chemotherapy for Brain Tumors?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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The pros and cons of chemotherapy for brain tumors vary based on the stage of cancer and the type of tumor. The benefits may include prolonged life or cancer that goes into remission after treatment, especially when combined with other methods of treatment. Cons include the fact that chemotherapy is not appropriate for many types of brain tumor, and it is not typically a useful treatment for tumors in the early stages. Tumors that are not cancerous are not typically treated with chemotherapy, especially if the tumor is not growing or causing any severe problems.

Using chemotherapy for brain tumors is not as common as other potential treatments for several reasons. The brain has a protective mechanism used to keep chemicals and other toxins out. This is beneficial most of the time, but it also acts to keep chemotherapy medications from making it to the brain tumor. Non-cancerous tumors are generally never treated with chemotherapy, and ones that are malignant are usually only treated using medication once they are progressed.

Occasionally, chemotherapy for brain tumors can be beneficial, especially when used in combination with other treatments for very aggressive cancers. This is especially true with newer drugs, which are being developed to target certain types of cells specifically. Some of them can be injected directly where needed, while others are designed to block the growth of certain types of cells or tissues.

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The main drawbacks of using chemotherapy for brain tumors are that it is not usually as effective as other alternate treatments. Many times tumors must be removed by surgery. This is followed by radiation treatments, which are designed to help shrink any existing tumor tissue and kill cancer cells. Sometimes chemotherapy is used after these treatments are complete, but not all types of tumors respond to medication. This means they are not a good option for some tumors at all, even in more advanced stages of disease.

To determine whether the use of chemotherapy for brain tumors is a good option, scans must be performed on the brain to determine the location of tumors, and how large they are. Tests may be done to find out if the tumors are cancerous. If they aren't, and they are small and not affecting brain function, doctors may take a wait and see approach by carefully monitoring growth. If they are found to be cancerous, surgery and radiation may be done to remove or shrink the tumors.

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