May marks the recognition of National Brain Tumor Awareness Month. Since its establishment in 2008, community organizations and support groups celebrate this month with increased efforts to raise awareness of brain tumors, increase funding for research and educate the public on symptoms and treatment options.
The Central Brain Tumor Registry estimates 66,290 new cases of primary non–malignant and malignant brain and central nervous system tumors will be diagnosed in the United States in 2012. What patients may not know is that a large percentage of those diagnoses will be from metastatic tumors, tumors that develop from cancer cells that have spread from another part of the body.
There are more than 120 different types of brain tumors, and while not all are necessarily fatal, any brain tumor should be considered a serious health condition. Brain tumors often create increased pressure in the skull, known as intracranial hypertension. This can lead to, among other conditions, headaches, vomiting, vision problems and altered states of consciousness.
“When researching treatment options, it’s important to know the right questions to ask,” explains Dr. Arica Hirsch, medical director of Illinois CyberKnife. “Patients should explore all treatment options and voice their concerns before deciding on which treatment is best for them.”
Brain tumors can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a mixture of these therapies. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used widely as secondary treatment following surgery. Both therapies can slow the growth of tumors. For patients who are not surgical candidates, radiation or chemotherapy can be used as initial treatment but typically only after a biopsy to confirm diagnosis. For some patients, stereotactic radiosurgery, a noninvasive method of treating tumors with high-dose, precisely targeted radiation, is also an option.
Several radiosurgery systems are capable of high-dose radiation treatment with a variety of radiation sources. Some methods use a metal frame attached to the patient’s skull with screws that immobilizes the head to accurately target the tumor. Local anesthetic is used for mounting the frames, though frames may be uncomfortable and painful to some extent.
CyberKnife does not use an invasive head frame for the treatment of brain tumors and can be particularly beneficial for patients with tumors near critical structures in the brain.
CyberKnife is a robotic radiosurgery system that treats cancerous and benign tumors in the brain by delivering targeted radiation beams directly to a tumor, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Treatment is complete in one to five treatment sessions, and patients are allowed to go home immediately after each procedure to resume normal activities. There may be side effects, such as fatigue, but these are usually minor and temporary.
For patients with inoperable or surgically complex tumors, or those who seek an alternative to conventional surgery or radiation therapy, CyberKnife can be an important treatment option. Because treatment with CyberKnife does not require incisions or anesthesia, there is also less risk for complications than conventional surgery.
“Brain tumors and lesions are among the three most frequently treated tumors at Illinois CyberKnife,” Dr. Hirsch said. “While it may not be the appropriate treatment option for all patients, CyberKnife can provide important benefits and hope to many brain tumor patients who are candidates.”
In addition to treating malignant and benign brain tumors, as well as brain metastases, Illinois CyberKnife treats tumors of the lung, prostate, kidney, liver, spine, pancreas and eye.
For more information, view our Brain Tumor Awareness presentation here.