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Brain Tumor Center

Patient and Family Education

Childhood Brain Stem Glioma

Treatment Side Effects

Side effects can occur with cancer treatments because healthy cells are often damaged along with cancer cells. The type and extent of these side effects vary depending on the particular treatment involved, its duration, and its dose:


The side effects of surgery depend on the location of the tumor, the type of operation, and other factors. Although patients are often uncomfortable during the first few days after surgery, this pain can usually be controlled with medicine. The recovery period after an operation varies from patient to patient.


Chemotherapy drugs generally target rapidly dividing cancer cells. However, other cells that also divide rapidly include blood cells, cells that line the digestive tract, and cells in hair follicles. Unfortunately, these healthy cells may also be impacted by the chemotherapy drugs, resulting in side effects such as infections, tiredness, temporary hair loss, mouth sores, and other symptoms. Not all chemotherapy patients develop all of these symptoms, and they usually go away during the recovery period or after treatment stops. Medicines and other treatments are available to control or minimize many of these symptoms.

One of the most important side effects of many chemotherapy drugs is lowering of the blood counts. Because chemotherapy can reduce the function of the bone marrow, where most blood cells are produced, it can cause the following side effects:

Radiation Therapy

The most common side effects of radiation therapy are tiredness, skin reactions(such as a rash or redness) in the treated areas, and loss of appetite. Radiation therapy may also cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells that help protect the body against infection. Most of these side effects can be treated or controlled and in most cases they are not permanent. Radiation therapy in young children may result in future learning difficulties and reduced growth.

During cancer treatment, patients may lose their appetite and find it hard to eat well. In addition, the common side effects of treatment, such as nausea, vomiting or mouth sores, can make it difficult to eat. Some patients find that foods taste different. Others may not feel like eating because they are uncomfortable or tired.

Eating well means getting enough calories and protein to help prevent weight loss and regain strength. Patients who eat well during cancer treatment often feel better and have more energy. In addition, they may be better able to handle the side effects of treatment.

This page was last updated on: September 22, 2009.