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Chemotherapy drugs for brain tumours

Men and women discussing brain tumours

This page tells you about the chemotherapy drugs used to treat brain tumours. It includes some information about the side effects of the chemotherapy drugs.

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Chemotherapy drugs for brain tumours

Chemotherapy can work well for some types of brain tumour. Your specialist will decide on the treatment that is right for you. They will take into account the type of tumour you have, and also your age and general health. The drugs most commonly used include temozolomide, procarbazine, carmustine (BCNU), lomustine (CCNU) and vincristine. Sometimes procarbazine, lomustine (CCNU) and vincristine are combined as a treatment called PCV.

Temozolomide, procarbazine and lomustine are all made as capsules or tablets, so you can swallow them. That means you can usually have these treatments at home, as an outpatient. But other drugs are given into the bloodstream as a drip. 

Common side effects

Chemotherapy has some general side effects. These may seem hard to bear at the time. But most of the effects will gradually go away when your treatment ends. The side effects may include a lowered resistance to infection, tiredness and weakness, feeling sick (nausea) and being sick, hair loss or thinning, flu like symptoms, sensitivity to the sun and a reaction to alcohol.

Chemo into the spinal fluid

Some drugs such as methotrexate can be injected into the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. This can help to treat some brain tumours, particularly lymphomas in the brain or spinal cord. This type of treatment can cause headaches, sickness, and a high temperature (fever).

Chemotherapy for children with brain tumours

Young children with primitive neuroectodermal tumours, ependymomas or some types of glioma may have chemotherapy instead of radiotherapy. This is so that they do not have to have radiotherapy at a very young age. Your child's specialist will decide the exact treatment, but the drugs used can include cyclophosphamide, vincristine, cisplatin, etoposide, carboplatin, or high dose methotrexate. 

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating brain tumours section.

 

 

Chemotherapy drugs for brain tumours

Chemotherapy can work well for some types of brain tumour. Your specialist will decide on the treatment that is right for you. They will take into account the type of tumour you have, and also your age and general health. The drugs most commonly used include

You can click on the names of the drugs to go to detailed information about them and their side effects.

Temozolomide, procarbazine and lomustine are all made as capsules or tablets, so you can swallow them. That means you can usually have these treatments at home, as an outpatient.

Sometimes procarbazine, lomustine (CCNU) and vincristine are combined as a treatment called PCV.

Other drugs that may be used include

 

Common side effects

Chemotherapy has some general side effects, including those below. Side effects may seem hard to bear at the time. But most of the effects will gradually go away when your treatment ends. You can find detailed information on coping with the side effects of chemotherapy in our section about cancer drug side effects.

Lowered resistance to infection

If you develop a temperature above 38°C or think you have an infection, it is very important to contact the hospital immediately. You may need urgent treatment with antibiotics. Your doctor or chemotherapy nurse will give you an emergency number to phone if you need to. There is detailed information about the effect of chemotherapy on your blood cells in the main chemotherapy section.

Tiredness and weakness

Tiredness (fatigue) is the most common side effect for people having chemotherapy. It may continue for some months after your treatment ends. How quickly you get back to normal will depend on your general health, on the amount of treatment you've had, and on other treatments you have had. We have information about coping with tiredness during chemotherapy.

Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick

These days, sickness can usually be well controlled with anti sickness medicines called anti emetics. If your chemotherapy is likely to make you feel or be sick, your doctor will prescribe anti sickness drugs. You may have them through your drip or as another injection along with the chemotherapy. You will then have some anti sickness tablets or suppositories to take regularly at home for the next few days.

There are many different anti sickness drugs and some work better for some people than others. So if you are still feeling or being sick, do tell your nurse or doctor straight away. They will be able to prescribe another one for you to try. Take your anti sickness tablets regularly, whether you feel sick or not. The drugs are much better at preventing sickness than stopping it once it starts.

Hair loss or thinning

Some chemotherapy drugs cause slight thinning of the hair. Some types of chemotherapy may cause complete hair loss, including your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. This usually begins within 2 to 3 weeks after treatment starts. It is usually a gradual loss rather than a sudden one. Your hair will usually grow back once your chemotherapy treatment has finished. You can ask your doctor or specialist nurse whether your drugs are likely to cause hair loss.

We have detailed information about hair loss and what you can do if you have hair loss due to chemotherapy.

Flu like symptoms 

You may have headaches, a temperature, and aching. Let your doctor or nurse know and they can prescribe medicines such as paracetamol to help. 

Sensitivity to the sun 

Some drugs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Cover up and stay in the shade while you are having these treatments. If you have to go out in the sun, use a high factor sun cream.

Reaction with alcohol

Procarbazine and lomustine can react with alcohol and non alcoholic beers and wine, making you sick, dizzy or breathless. So, when you are taking these drugs (and for 2 weeks afterwards) it is best to avoid these types of drink.

 

Chemo into the spinal fluid

Some drugs such as methotrexate can be injected into the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. This can help to treat some brain tumours, particularly lymphomas in the brain or spinal cord. This type of treatment can cause

  • Headaches
  • Sickness
  • A high temperature (fever)

Headache and sickness are the most common side effects. They can start almost as soon as you have the drug. You have to stay lying down for at least an hour after you have had your injection, to make sure that the chemotherapy can circulate around your brain. Very rarely, this type of treatment can cause fits (jerking of the arms and legs and a short period of unconsciousness). This is rare, so if you are worried by it, talk to your nurse or doctor for reassurance.

 

Chemotherapy for children with brain tumours

Young children with primitive neuroectodermal tumours, ependymomas or some types of glioma may have chemotherapy instead of radiotherapy. This is so that they do not have to have radiotherapy at a very young age. Your child's specialist will decide the exact treatment, but the drugs used can include

Click on the links for information about the side effects of these drugs.

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Updated: 30 December 2013