You were just diagnosed with a brain tumor, which has probably left you full of questions. Your personal doctor will be a great resource for you through this process, but educating yourself and looking for answers will help you stay engaged in your treatment. Self-education allows you to better understand the information your doctor shares with you, giving you more confidence and peace of mind on your road to recovery.
To help you learn more about what to expect during this time, the following guide outlines a series of next steps to take following your brain tumor diagnosis. There are many different types of brain tumors, so your personal doctor will be the best person to address any specifics about your recovery and prognosis. However, the following applies to anyone who was just diagnosed with a brain tumor and can help guide you as you start the treatment process.
Step 1: Understand Your Brain Tumor
There are many different types of brain tumors, each very different from the next. This makes it important that you are keeping your specific form of brain tumor in focus as you learn more about your condition. A benign tumor will behave differently than a cancerous tumor, and a tumor originating from one type of brain tissue may respond better to a certain form of treatment than another. Some tumors spread from other areas of the body and grow within the brain, which will require a particular treatment approach and can vary depending on the original form of cancer.
As you read through information on your own, keep a list of questions to bring up to your personal doctor at your next appointment. He or she will help you filter out any information that may not be pertinent to your individual condition and can help put things you learn into context as it relates to your specific situation.
Step 2: Develop a Treatment Plan
Your neurosurgeon will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on what type of brain tumor you have, its size and location, and your personal health factors. Some patients will benefit from a single treatment approach, but brain tumors are often most effectively treated using a combination of therapies. Potential treatment approaches include:
- Surgery — Your doctor may surgically remove all or part of your tumor using traditional open surgery. Your procedure will take place in a hospital while you are comfortably asleep and typically requires a hospital stay of 3-7 days. You may benefit from surgery if you have a large tumor if it is easily accessible and/or you are a good surgical candidate based on your overall health. If your doctor is concerned about any tumor cells remaining following surgery, you may require adjunct therapies, such as radiation or chemotherapy.
- Whole Brain Radiation Therapy — Whole brain radiation therapy has long been the gold-standard treatment for some types of brain tumors and is a proven and effective method. It involves multiple sessions of low doses of radiation, which are delivered to the entire brain, including your tumor. However, because it also doses healthy brain tissue, it lends itself to some unpleasant side effects.
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery — This treatment is not actually a surgery, but an advanced form of radiation therapy that delivers a targeted beam of radiation directly to your tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissues. The result is an effective treatment with less of the side effects commonly associated with radiation therapy.
- Chemotherapy — Some brain tumors respond to chemotherapy, while others do not. This is because the brain is a protected site of the body, with a natural defense called the blood-brain barrier, which prevents some drugs from being able to reach your tumor.
Step 3: Establish a Support Network
You are not alone in this process. You have the support of your healthcare team, family, friends and coworkers. If you feel like you need further support, it’s right at your fingertips. Look online for local or web-based support groups of other people who have just been diagnosed with brain tumors or who are undergoing treatment for the same condition you are.
Even if you are an independent person who typically does not utilize support networks, simply having other people to relate to can help give you somewhere to ask questions, find answers and have a conversation with people going through the same thing. Some people find the relative anonymity of an online support group lends itself to sharing more, which can be a rewarding experience.
Step 4: Anticipate Lifestyle Changes
What you can expect in the way of lifestyle changes will depend on your personal diagnosis and circumstances. However, all patients just diagnosed with brain tumors can expect to have a new schedule of doctors’ appointments, both leading up to and following your treatment. It’s important that you attend any follow-up visits for imaging and check-ups even after your treatment is complete. This allows your doctor to monitor for any recurrence of your brain tumor and to detect any changes as early as possible.
Keep Up the Great Work
By learning more about your brain tumor condition and treatment as well as what to expect, you are going to be ahead of the game through this entire process. Continue to learn more along the way, and take your new knowledge into each appointment as you discuss your next steps with your doctor. Being actively engaged will help you have confidence and peace of mind along the way, allowing you to focus on what matters most now — healing.