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There are three primary treatment options for patients with childhood brain stem glioma:
More than one method of treatment may be used, depending on the needs of the patient.
Because tumors in the brain stem often cannot be removed, radiation therapy is the most common treatment for children with brain stem gliomas. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation from x-rays and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy for brain stem gliomas usually comes from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy). Clinical trials are evaluating radiation therapy given in several small doses per day (hyperfractionated radiation therapy). Since radiation therapy can affect growth and brain development, other clinical trials are testing ways to decrease or delay radiation therapy, especially for younger children who have not yet achieved full growth.
Surgery is used when possible to treat brain stem gliomas. Depending on where the cancer is, the child's doctor may remove as much of the tumor as possible by creating an opening in the skull in an operation called a craniotomy. If the brain stem glioma is in a place where it cannot be removed, surgery may be limited to a biopsy of the cancer.
Chemotherapy is treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells. Most anticancer drugs are injected into a vein (IV) or a muscle; some are given by mouth. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, meaning that the drugs flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body to kill cancerous cells. It is generally given in cycles: a treatment period is followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, and so on.