Nervous System Tumor Treatments

When brain tumors do not respond to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, other treatments may be used to treat nervous system tumors. These treatments may include the following:

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors (drugs that disrupt the tumor's blood vessels and cut off its supply of nutrients and oxygen)
  • Differentiating agents (drugs that convert dividing cancer cells into mature, nondividing cells and prevent tumor growth)
  • Immunotherapy (used to boost the immune system to fight tumor cells more effectively)
  • Gene therapy (using genes to change the function of tumor cells or the immune system)

Specific Treatments for Particular Types of Brain Tumors

Astrocytomas Treatment

There are three types of astrocytoma tumors: low-grade astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma, and glioblastoma multiforme.

Low-grade astrocytomas are typically removed surgically. It is not clear if radiation following surgery provides any benefit for low-grade tumors. It may be enough to monitor the recurrence of tumor growth with MRI or CT scan.

More aggressive anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastoma multiformes usually are treated using surgery and radiation therapy, followed by chemotherapy. Various chemotherapy agents are currently being studied in clinical trials.

Glioblastoma multiforme, which is the most common adult primary tumor type, is especially difficult to treat because it tends to infiltrate normal brain tissue, preventing complete surgical removal.

Oligodendrogliomas Treatment

Low-grade oligodendrogliomas (low-grade tumors) and oligoastrocytomas (tumors made up of a mix of oligodendroglioma cells and astrocytoma cells) are typically removed surgically, sometimes followed by radiation. The more aggressive anaplastic oligodendrogliomas are usually treated using chemotherapy, followed by radiation.

Treatment of Spinal Cord Tumors

Primary spinal cord tumors do not usually require radiation, unless they cannot be removed surgically. Metastatic spinal tumors, however, are normally treated using radiation as the primary therapy. Healthy spinal cord tissue is extremely sensitive to damage caused by radiation, even more so than brain tissue and about half of all spinal cord tumors occur in the thoracic region, which is the most sensitive area.

Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat spinal cord tumors, after surgery or radiation or when surgery or radiation are not recommended. Because spinal cord tumors can cause significant disability, rehabilitation and pain management are both an important part of treatment.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015