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If your brain tumour comes back

Men and women discussing brain tumours

This page tells you about what happens if your brain tumour comes back after treatment. There are sections about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

If a 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.

Treatments

Depending on the treatment you had at first, it may be possible for your specialist to give you further treatment to try to control the tumour once again. Even if it is not possible to cure the tumour, further treatment may keep it under control for a while and control the symptoms of the tumour.

Your doctor will discuss all the possible treatments with you. They may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these. 

This is a decision that has to be made individually. It 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

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. If you have had all the treatment you can have, it will still be possible to help relieve your symptoms. They 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 may also have medicine to help control fits (seizures) if you need them.

Information and support

There is a lot of information and support available. You can find information on this website and through the Cancer Research UK nurses. You can also share information with others on our online forum, Cancer chat.

 

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

 

 

Brain tumours that come 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. We have information about coping with the feelings and emotions that you may have.

Depending on the treatment you had at first, it may be possible for your specialist to give you further treatment to try to control the tumour once again.

Even if it is not possible to cure the tumour, further treatment may keep it under control for a while and control the symptoms of the tumour.

 

Deciding on treatment

This is a decision that has to be made individually. It 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
 

Treatments

Your doctor will discuss all the possible treatments with you. Treatments may include

Surgery

It may be possible for you to have surgery 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 because the tumour is likely to grow back very quickly afterwards.

Radiotherapy

It may be possible to have radiotherapy if

  • You had not had radiotherapy before or
  • The tumour is in a different part of the brain than the first time or
  • It is more than a couple of years since the original tumour

Sometimes targeted radiotherapy such as stereotactic radiotherapy can be given to areas that have already had radiotherapy for particular types of brain tumour.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is often kept in reserve in case a brain tumour comes back (recurs). So it is often possible to have this treatment for a recurrence. Even if you have had chemotherapy treatment before, there may be another drug or combination of drugs that you can try.

 

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.

If you have had all the treatment you can have, it will still be possible to help relieve your symptoms. They 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 may also have 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 and they will give you anti convulsant medicines to take.

There is information about living with an advanced brain tumour in this section of the website.

 

Clinical trials

You may want to ask your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial. New treatments are often being tried and there may be a trial suitable for you. There is a chance that the trial treatment may control your brain tumour for a while longer. But clinical trials are testing treatments. It is tempting to assume that any new treatment must be more effective than the existing ones, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Make sure you understand what going into the trial will mean. 

In our trials and research section, there are pages explaining all about clinical trials, including what clinical trials are and how to find a trial.  If you are interested in finding out about clinical trials running at the moment, click on 'brain tumour trials' on the left hand menu of any page in this section.  You could also ask your specialist if there is any trial that they know of that is suitable for you.

 

More information about treatments

If you would like more information you can find detailed information about surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy for brain tumours in our section about brain tumour treatment.

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. 

You can contact one of the brain tumour organisations or look at our brain tumour reading list.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum.

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Updated: 30 December 2013