What Side Effects to Expect During Treatment

Patients have unique experiences with brain and spinal cord tumor treatment. Some patients tolerate chemotherapy and take the prescribed treatment schedule while some patients do not.

Side effects from brain or spine cancer treatment can have a large impact on your life and family interactions. Do not underestimate the importance of partnering with your medical team.

It is important for both the patient and caregivers to discuss any changes they see during treatment with their health care providers. Have an open dialogue throughout treatment. The physicians involved with the CERN Foundation, known as CERN Members, are experienced in treating ependymoma patients and are aware of the potential side effects and how to best treat them. You are welcome to contact us with questions you may have that were not addressed here. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to connect with others and find support. Each type of treatment comes with its own set of side effects. In some cases, the side effects are extreme.

Surgery Side Effects

Patients may experience:

  • Neurologic problems
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Swelling of the brain or spine
  • CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) leak
  • Nerve damage
  • Paralysis of muscles
  • Wound (surgical incision) healing problems

These side effects can be minimized when procedures are performed in specialized centers. Where an experienced neuro-oncology team, working in the most technologically advanced settings, can provide the most extensive resections while preserving normal tissue.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Tumor cells are fast-growing. Chemotherapy is designed to attack fast-growing cells, rapidly dividing cells. However, some normal cells, are also fast-growing (such as hair follicles, bone marrow and stomach cells) and so are often affected by chemotherapy.

Patients may experience:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood counts
  • Low red blood cells (anemia): fatigue
  • Low white blood cells (leucopenia or neutropenia): risk of infection
  • Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia): risk of bleeding

Chemotherapy can cause fatigue due to anemia. It can increase risk of infection. These side effects can be effectively managed under most circumstances with standard medical approaches.

Radiation Treatment Side Effects

Radiation treatment often produces inflammation. This can temporarily intensify symptoms and dysfunction. Steroids are sometimes used to control inflammation.

Patients who receive radiation treatment to the head may experience these side effects:

  • Redness and irritation in the mouth
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in or loss of taste
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Short and long term cognitive and neurologic problems
  • Other side effects may include:
  • Skin changes such as redness, flaking and swelling

These side effects can be effectively managed under most circumstances with standard medical approaches.

Radiation Treatment Side Effects in Children

Children experience additional side effects because of their developing bodies.

Radiation may cause these side effects in young patients:

  • Damage to normal brain structures, causing learning problems or slow growth and development
  • Increased risk of developing brain tumors later in life

Finding the delicate balance between giving enough therapy to eliminate the cancer, but not so much as to damage healthy cells and cause unnecessary side effects is one of the most difficult challenges in treating tumors in children. It is important to understand the potential side effects and all treatment alternatives.

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