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Radiation for a Brain Tumor

The goal of radiation therapy is to slow or help control tumor growth. It uses painless x-rays to destroy tumor cells. Radiation therapy can be used alone or with other types of treatment. If your doctor has selected radiation therapy for you, you may have traditional radiation or stereotactic radiosurgery.

Traditional Radiation

There are two main forms of traditional radiation therapy: focused and whole brain. Treatment is given in the same manner for both types, but their risks and side effects differ. Your experience for both may be as follows:

  • You may wear a facemask to keep your head from moving.

  • Small marks may be made on your head to focus the x-rays.

  • A large machine will send x-rays from several directions.

  • Your treatment will be given in a series, such as 5 days a week for 4–7 weeks.

Focused Radiation

X-rays are aimed at the tumor and the area right around it.

Short-term side effects and risks are brain swelling, fatigue, nausea, headache, seizures, hair loss, hearing loss, and skin changes in the treated area.

Long-term side effects and risks are memory loss, trouble thinking, permanent hair loss, hormonal changes, and necrosis (death of surrounding tissue).

Whole Brain Radiation

This treatment involves radiation to the entire brain. It is most often used to treat multiple tumors.

Short-term and long-term side effects and risks are the same as for focused radiation. However, because the whole brain is radiated, effects can be more severe.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Radiosurgery involves a single high dose of radiation. Since it is very focused, the normal tissue around the tumor receives little or no radiation.

  • You are fitted with a headframe to keep your head in the correct position.

  • The tumor’s location is mapped with CT or MRI scans. Sometimes both are used.

  • Information from the headframe and scans is entered into a computer. This plans where to focus the radiation.

  • A machine will beam the radiation to the tumor. Two of the most common machines used are the gamma knife and the linear accelerator.

  • You will need to lie still during both the mapping and the treatment. You may be given medications to help you relax.

Short-term side effects and risks are seizures, infection, hemorrhage, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and temporary hair loss.

Long-term risk of necrosis (death of surrounding tissue) exists.

Online Medical Reviewer: Germano, Isabelle M, MD, FACS
Online Medical Reviewer: Patil, Parag G, MD, PhD
Last Review Date: 12/8/2011
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