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If your brain tumour comes back

Find out what happens if your brain tumour comes back.

Some brain tumours are completely cured with the first round of treatment. Others will come back at some time after they were first treated. When a cancer comes back it can be a great shock. 

Your specialist might be able to recommend further treatment. Even if it is not possible to cure your tumour, further treatment can: 

  • keep the growth under control for a while
  • help to control the symptoms of the tumour

Deciding on treatment

Your treatment plan will be made individually by your multi disciplinary team (MDT). Your plan will depend on:

  • the type of tumour you have
  • the size of the tumour
  • the treatment you have already had
  • whether the tumour has spread within the brain or spinal cord
  • how fast it is growing
  • your general health



It might be possible for you to have surgery again, to try to remove as much as possible of the tumour.

In some situations it is not likely that surgery will help. For example, if there are several new brain tumours or if the tumour is now growing quite quickly. It may not be worth putting you through further brain surgery if the tumour is likely to grow back very quickly afterwards.


It might be possible to have radiotherapy if:​

  • you have not had radiotherapy before
  • the tumour is in a different part of the brain than the first time
  • it's more than a couple of years since the original tumour

It is sometimes possible to have targeted radiotherapy, such as stereotactic radiotherapy, to areas that have already had radiotherapy.


You might have chemotherapy if your brain tumour comes back (recurs).

Even if you have had chemotherapy treatment before, there may be another drug or combination of drugs that you can have.

Controlling symptoms

The first way to control your symptoms will be with treatment.

Surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy can reduce the size of the tumour and ease the pressure that is causing symptoms.

It can still be possible to help relieve your symptoms if you have had all available treatments. Symptoms can nearly always be controlled to some extent. Steroids will bring down the swelling inside the head. This will help to ease headaches, sickness and drowsiness. You can also take painkillers, including morphine, to help with headaches.

You might need medicine to help control fits (seizures). Fits are quite common with advanced brain tumours. There are different types of fit, including:

  • focal seizures – just one part of the body is affected, such as a hand or foot shaking for a few minutes
  • generalised seizure – you fall, the whole body shakes, and you become unconscious for a short time
  • absence seizures – you become unaware of what is around you (vacant) for a few seconds or minutes
  • temporal seizures – you have a feeling of having done something before or odd smells or tastes

If you have any kind of seizure, let your doctor know.

It can be quite scary for you and for the people close to you. Your team can talk through what might happen and what to do.

Clinical trials

Researchers want to improve treatments for people whose brain tumour has come back. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial. They can discuss through whether there is a suitable trial for you.


Finding out your brain tumour has come back can be shocking and upsetting. Some people find that talking about how they are feeling helps.

You are also welcome to contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.