Brain Cancer Chemotherapy

A Blunt Approach


A common part of a cancer treatment regiment is chemotherapy. We all know that it makes your hair fall out but what is it actually doing? What is it made of? Well chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs called cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer cells. The mechanism that these drugs employ is disrupting the growth of cancer cells. When these drugs circulate throughout the bloodstream in the body they can reach cancer cells wherever they are in your body including the brain.

When Is It Employed

brain cancer chemotherapyBrain cancer hemotherapy is generally used, after surgery, to try to prevent brain cancer from coming back. It's also used to treat brain tumors that have come back since they were first treated by surgery or radiation. There are times that a brain tumor can not be operated on and chemotherapy may be the only way to treat it. Sometimes chemo can shrink the tumor enough for it to be operated on.

Chemotherapy can't be used in all forms of brain cancer. In fact there are only a few chemotherapy drugs that can be used on brain cancer. This is because of the blood - brain barrier. This barrier acts as a natural filter within the body. This filter will only allow certain substances through from the blood to the brain. This filter helps protect the brain from harmful substances in the blood and body. Chemotherapy drugs are toxic , so naturally it is hard to get these cancer drugs to the brain.

How It's Taken

There is a few different ways in which brain cancer chemotherapy can be administered; in tablet form, injected into a vein, injected into your spinal fluid or administered directly into the area of a brain tumor. The most common way is to have injected directly into the bloodstream or in a bag of fluid through a IV drip. There are some chemotherapy drugs such as temozolomide, procarbazine or lomustine that can be taken by mouth. This form of chemotherapy can be done outpatient in the person's home rather than having to go to the hospital for treatment. The obvious advantage of this is that you can have most or all of your treatment at home as an outpatient. In some situations a patient may need a combination of tablets and injections to treat some more stubborn forms of brain cancer.

Sometimes drugs such as Methotrexate are injected into the spine to treat certain brain cancers. In this case the drug is injected directly into the spinal canal. The chemotherapy drug then mixes with the spinal fluid and is then able to circulate through the brain and get around the challenge of the blood-brain barrier. There is a newer form of chemotherapy treatment in the form of implantable wafers. In this treatment, the chemotherapy drug is inside a gel wafer. A surgeon then puts this gel wafer into the brain near the tumor. As the gel dissolves over a couple of weeks it releases the chemotherapy drug directly into the brain

Side Effects

One of the problems with brain cancer chemotherapy is that it is toxic. It does not always just attack cancer cells, and it is circulated throughout the whole body. This can make a patient very ill. Some common side effects are nausea and vomiting. A patient can expect hair thinning and hair loss. There can be memory loss, which is sometimes called 'Chemo-brain'. The whole chemotherapy regimen can be exhausting. Many of these side effects are usually treated with a number of different medications. Chemotherapy can also suppress the immune system and so patients should stay away from anyone with a infection or virus. I would strongly recommend taking a look at Chemo Brain and Recovery: A Guide for Survival by Dr. Susan Hardwicke, the story about how this neuro-nutritionist overcame the effects of Chemotherapy and the cancer itself.


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