Brain cancer treatment

The main treatments for brain or spinal cord tumours are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. These may be used alone or in combination. Medicines, such as steroids or anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medicines), may be given to reduce symptoms. There also could be new, experimental treatments or improvements in existing treatments. These are given in clinical trials – your doctor will tell you if you are eligible to join. See Clinical trials for more information.

The aim of treatment may be to remove the tumour completely, slow its growth, or relieve symptoms by shrinking the tumour and reducing swelling. Your choice of treatment will depend on:

  • the type, size, grade, location and genetic make-up of the tumour
  • your age, medical history and general state of health
  • the types of symptoms you have.

Learn more about:


Listen to podcasts on Making Treatment Decisions and Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis


Making treatment decisions

Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the type of treatment to have. You may feel that everything is happening too fast. Check with your doctor how soon your treatment should start, and take as much time as you can before making a decision.

Understanding the disease, the available treatments and possible side effects can help you weigh up the pros and cons of different treatments and make a well-informed decision that’s based on your personal values. You may also want to discuss the options with your doctor, friends and family.

You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment offered. Some people with more advanced cancer choose treatment even if it only offers a small benefit for a short period of time. Others want to make sure the benefits outweigh the side effects so that they have the best possible quality of life.


Talking with doctors

When your doctor first tells you that you have cancer, you may not remember the details about what you are told. Taking notes or recording the discussion may help. Many people like to have a family member or friend go with them to take part in the discussion, take notes or simply listen.

If you are confused or want more explanation, you can ask questions – see Questions for your doctor for a list of suggested questions. If you have several questions, you may want to talk to a nurse or ask the office manager if it is possible to book a longer appointment.


A second opinion

You may want to get a second opinion from another specialist to confirm or clarify your doctor’s recommendations or reassure you that you have explored all of your options. Specialists are used to people doing this.

Your doctor can refer you to another specialist and send your initial results to that person. You can get a second opinion even if you have started treatment or still want to be treated by your first doctor. You might decide you would prefer to be treated by the doctor who provided the second opinion.


Taking part in a clinical trial

Your doctor or nurse may suggest you take part in a clinical trial. Doctors run clinical trials to test new or modified treatments and ways of diagnosing disease to see if they are better than current methods. For example, if you join a randomised trial for a new treatment, you will be chosen at random to receive either the best existing treatment or the modified new treatment.

Over the years, clinical trials have improved treatments and led to better outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer.

It may be helpful to talk to your specialist or clinical trials nurse, or get a second opinion. If you decide to take part, you can withdraw at any time. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit Australian Cancer Trials.


Video: Research And Clinical Trials

Your doctor may suggest you take part in a clinical trial. Find out more about clinical trials for people with cancer, and the four phases that make up clinical trials.


This information was last reviewed in April 2018
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