More than 17,000 people in the United States each year are diagnosed with a
brain tumor. Some tumors are benign (noncancerous), and they can usually be
removed and are not likely to recur. Others are malignant (cancerous); they
interfere with vital functions and are life-threatening. Malignant brain tumors
usually grow rapidly, crowding and invading tissue.
Primary brain tumors are cancers that arise in the brain and affect the
central nervous system (CNS). Secondary brain tumors, which are 10 times more
common, are cancers that originated elsewhere in the body and have metastasized
(spread) to the brain.
Signs and Symptoms
A brain tumor can be accompanied by the following signs and
Headaches that often are worse in the morning
Nausea or vomiting
Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs
Stumbling or lack of coordination when walking
Abnormal eye movements or changes in vision
Changes in personality or memory
Changes in speech
Who's Most At Risk?
People with the following conditions or characteristics may be at risk for
developing a brain tumor.
Exposure to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer
Certain occupations, such as lead, petroleum, plastic, rubber, and
textile workers, as well as aircraft and vehicle operators
Exposure to electromagnetic fields
Certain viruses, especially Epstein-Barr virus
People who have had transplants and individuals with
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with a brain tumor, you should
see your health care provider immediately. Your provider will ask about your
personal and family medical history, and will perform a complete physical and
neurologic exam. This includes checks for alertness, muscle strength,
coordination, reflexes, and response to pain, and an eye exam to look for
swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the nerve that connects the eye and the
brain. The provider may send you for a computed tomography (CT) scan and/or
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Additional tests may include skull X ray,
brain scan, angiogram or arteriogram, and a myelogram (X ray of the spine, using
dye). If cancer is present, others who may become involved in your care include
a neurosurgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurse, dietitian,
social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech
Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, location, and size of the
tumor, as well as the person's age and general health. Treatment generally
involves surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Your provider may prescribe the following therapies.
Steroids, to relieve swelling
Anticonvulsants, to prevent or control seizures
Radiation therapy, to destroy tumor tissue that cannot be removed with
surgery or to kill cancer cells that may remain after surgery, or when surgery
is not possible
Chemotherapy, to kill cancer
Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgery is the most common treatment. To remove a brain tumor, a neurosurgeon
performs a craniotomy, which involves making an opening in the skull. If the
tumor cannot be at least partially removed, the surgeon may do only a biopsy, in
which a small piece of the tumor is removed so that a pathologist can examine it
under a microscope to determine the type of cancer cells. This necessary
information helps determine other forms of treatment.
Another procedure sometimes used is insertion of a shunt to drain
cerebrospinal fluid. A shunt is a long, thin tube placed in the brain and then
threaded under the skin to another part of the body, usually the abdomen. It
works like a drainpipe, allowing excess fluid to be carried away from the brain
and absorbed in the abdomen.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for brain cancer may include a range of
complementary and alternative therapies. Nutrients and herbs may protect against
side effects from conventional therapies as well as enhance chemotherapy and
support anticancer activities. Mind-body therapies such as meditation,
relaxation techniques, yoga, and qi gong may reduce the effects of stress and
enhance your quality of life and your response to treatment. Ask your team of
health care providers about the best ways to incorporate these therapies into
your overall treatment plan.
Eat only organically-raised foods. Include sea vegetables, garlic, onions,
green tea, whole grains, fresh vegetables (especially dark green, yellow, and
orange vegetables), legumes, protein, and anti-inflammatory oils (i.e., nuts,
seeds, and cold-water fish) in your diet. Eliminate processed meats, refined
foods, additives, sugar, artificial foods, alcohol, caffeine, saturated fats,
Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the
Vitamin E (400 to 800 IU per day), vitamin C (250 to 500 mg twice per
day), selenium (200 mcg twice per day), coenzyme Q10 (100 mg three times per
day), and vitamin A (25,000 IU twice per day)
Glutathione 500 mg twice per day
Melatonin (20 mg four times per day)
Methionine (100 mg three times a day), zinc (20 mg per day), vitamin C
(250 to 500 mg twice per day), and selenium
Shark and bovine cartilage
Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or
tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose
for teas is 1 heaping tsp. per cup of water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need
Garlic (Allium sativum): Drink ginger (Zingiber
officinale) and garlic tea, two to three cups daily.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): 200 mg two times per day and
bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) 120 mg two times per day
Commercial Hoxsey-like formulas or trifolium compounds: 60 drops two
to three times per day to tid for six months or longer
Herbal mixes containing burdock root (Arctium lappa), sheep
sorrel (Rumex acetosella), slippery elm (Ulmus fulva), turkey
rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), and other herbs:for brand name
products, follow dosing instructions on the product labeling
Mistletoe (Viscum album): 60 drops tincture three times per
day, or 250 mg capsules three times per day
Combine essential oils of bergamot (Citrus bergamia), chamomile
(Matricaria recutita), and lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) in
aromatherapy applications. Place several drops in a warm bath, or four to six
drops in 1 tbs. of vegetable oil for
Homeopathy may help relieve symptoms and strengthen overall
While acupuncture is not used as a treatment for cancer itself, evidence
suggests it can be a valuable therapy for cancer-related symptoms (particularly
nausea and vomiting that often accompanies chemotherapy treatment). There have
also been studies indicating that acupuncture may help reduce pain and shortness
of breath. Acupressure (pressing on rather than needling acupuncture points) has
also proved useful in controlling breathlessness; this is a technique that
patients can learn and then use to treat themselves.
Some acupuncturists prefer to work with a patient only after the completion
of conventional medical cancer therapy. Others will provide acupuncture and/or
herbal therapy during active chemotherapy or radiation. Acupuncturists treat
cancer patients based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and
deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In many cases of cancer-related
symptoms, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen or kidney
The outlook varies greatly depending on the type of tumor and a variety of
other factors. Some types of brain cancer have a five-year survival rate above
80 percent. Brain cancer has significant emotional and psychological effects.
Patients who receive radiation therapy to large areas of the brain or certain
anticancer drugs may have a higher risk of developing leukemia or a second tumor
at a later time. Radiation that affects the eyes may lead to the later
development of cataracts.
Regular follow-up is very important after treatment, to make sure the tumor
has not returned. Checkups usually include physical and neurologic exams and
occasional CT scans or MRIs.
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Review Date: March 2000
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD,
Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; Anne McClenon, ND,
Compass Family Health Center, Plymouth, MA; Marcellus Walker, MD, LAc,
(Acupuncture section October 2001) St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, New
York, NY; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA, (Acupuncture section October 2001) President
and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
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