Supportive therapy is commonly used to treat the symptoms caused by brain and spinal cord tumours, but it does not treat the cancer. The drugs used may help lessen symptoms from the cancer or the treatment.
Supportive therapy may be used to treat:
Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person. It is important to report side effects to the healthcare team. Doctors may also grade (measure) how severe certain side effects are. Sometimes supportive therapy drugs need to be adjusted if side effects are severe.
A corticosteroid is any steroid hormone that acts as an anti-inflammatory by reducing swelling and lowering the body’s immune response (the immune system’s reaction to the presence of foreign substances). These drugs are used to treat cerebral or spinal edema. Swelling is caused by the growing tumour pressing on areas of the brain or spinal cord. Normal tissue may also swell as a reaction to surgery or radiation. Worsening cerebral edema can result in a cancer-related emergency referred to as increased intracranial pressure.
A person with cerebral edema may experience the following signs and symptoms:
A person with spinal edema may experience:
Most people with brain or spinal cord tumours will be given corticosteroids to treat or prevent edema. The most common corticosteroids used are:
The drug is given at the lowest effective dose for each person and is gradually tapered down and discontinued after the person finishes treatment.
If the edema no longer responds to corticosteroids, mannitol (Osmitrol) may be used.
Possible side effects of corticosteroids include:
Up to 60% of people with brain tumours will have a seizure during their illness.
Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medications) are given to people with brain tumours who have already had a seizure. Usually, anticonvulsants are not given to prevent seizures in people who have not had them.
The most common anticonvulsants used are:
The level of the anticonvulsant drug in the blood is checked through regular blood tests. To be safe and effective, the drug level must stay within a certain range.
Possible side effects of anticonvulsants include:
For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.
The Canadian Cancer Society provides helpful information about government income programs, financial resources and other resources available to families struggling to make sense of the personal financial burden they face.