Understanding Brain Cancer: Explore your options

If you’ve been diagnosed with brain cancer, it’s important to explore all options related to brain cancer treatment. Below, learn what’s next, what questions to ask the doctor, and what treatments are available.

The first step on your brain cancer treatment journey is to find an oncologist (radiation, medical or surgical) whom you trust. It may seem overwhelming to choose an oncologist. First, start with referrals from your primary care physician or insurance carrier. Talk to family and friends who may have recommendations.

Here are some things to consider when choosing an oncologist:

  • Is the oncologist board certified?
  • How much experience does he or she have in treating brain cancer?
  • Do you feel comfortable talking with this doctor? Does he or she listen well?
  • Is the staff compassionate? Is the environment a good one or do you feel rushed?
  • What hospital(s) does this oncologist see patients in?
  • What are the office hours?
  • What if you have an emergency? Can you call?
  • Can this doctor be contacted after hours?

You will be spending a lot of time with your oncologist and staff nurses and technicians, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with them.

As you and your doctor explore the treatment options open to you, make sure you find out the answers to the following:

  • What are the chances my cancer will come back after this treatment?
  • What do we do if the cancer comes back or the treatment doesn’t work?
  • Will I lose my hair?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Will there be scars?

Choosing a Cancer Center

Choosing where to receive treatment is just as important as selecting an oncologist. It’s good to know the differences between hospitals. Here are some guidelines:

  • Academic cancer centers: These are affiliated with medical schools. A high priority is put on research. They are usually located in large cities.
  • Community cancer centers: The main focus is on patient care.
  • Cancer Centers: These are noted for a high quality of science and research.

Some questions to ask before choosing where to get your treatment include:

  • Volume: how many brain cancer surgeries does the surgeon do annually?
  • Travel: how far do you want to travel? Would there be extra costs?
  • Cost: is the hospital covered by your insurance plan?
  • Accreditations: what accreditations does the hospital hold?

Treatment Options

It’s helpful to understand the possible treatments for brain cancer. Following are overviews of the most common treatments. Reading these should help you know what to expect, what the potential side effects are, and what the advantages are to each.  

Click on the treatment type to read more: 

In general, there are 3 options for treating brain cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Many people get a combination of these 3.

In determining your treatment, your doctor will consider:

  • Your age and general health.
  • What type and grade of brain tumor you have.
  • Where the tumor is located in your brain.
  • The size of the brain tumor.

For some types of brain cancer, your doctor will also need to know whether cancer cells were found in the cerebrospinal fluid.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. There are several different specialists who treat brain tumors:

  • Neurologists
  • Neurosurgeons
  • Neuro-oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Neuroradiologists

Your care team may also include:

  • An oncology nurse
  • A registered dietitian
  • A mental health counselor
  • A social worker
  • A physical therapist
  • An occupational therapist
  • A speech therapist

Questions to Ask Before Treatment

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before you begin treatment:

  • What type of brain tumor do I have?
  • Is it benign or malignant?
  • What is the grade of the tumor?
  • What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Why?
  • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
  • What can I do to prepare for treatment?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? How can side effects be managed?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover it?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities? What is the chance that I will have to learn how to walk, speak, read, or write after treatment?
  • Would a research study (clinical trial) be appropriate for me?
  • Can you recommend other doctors who could give me a second opinion about my treatment options?
  • How often should I have checkups?

When you first meet with your doctor, it can be helpful to bring someone else with you. That way, there’s someone else to hear what is said and to ask questions. Here are some other tips for talking with your doctor:

  • Write out your questions ahead of time.
  • Write down the answers your doctor gives you.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to say it in a different way. It’s important that you understand, and you have a right to know.  

Back to “Understanding Brain Cancer: An Introduction”