The following are common side effects of brain tumor treatments:
Loss of Appetite
Appetite changes are common with cancer and cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy. Ongoing appetite loss can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and loss of muscle mass and strength. The combination of weight loss and loss of muscle mass, also called wasting, is referred to as cachexia.
Brain surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may harm normal tissue. Cognitive abilities can be affected, including thinking, seeing and hearing. It may also result in personality changes and seizures. Most of these problems usually lessen or disappear over time, and you may need physical therapy or speech therapy to facilitate recovery. In some cases, brain damage may be permanent.
Fatigue is extreme exhaustion or tiredness and is a common problem that people with cancer experience. More than half of patients experience fatigue during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and up to 70 percent of patients with advanced cancer experience fatigue.
Sometimes, cancer treatment can cause fluid buildup in the skull, which may result in brain swelling. You may feel pressure, or have a headache. Your health care team will monitor you for any signs of fluid buildup. Treatments include administering a steroid, or if needed, a second surgery to reduce swelling.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy cause hair loss by damaging the hair follicles responsible for hair growth. Hair loss usually occurs on the head, but may also result throughout the body, including the face, arms, legs, underarms and pubic areas. The hair may fall out entirely, gradually or in sections. In some cases, the hair will simply thin. Hair loss is usually temporary, and the hair often grows back.
An infection occurs when harmful bacteria, viruses or fungi invade the body and the immune system is not able to destroy them quickly enough. Patients with cancer are more likely to develop infections because both cancer and cancer treatments (particularly chemotherapy and radiation therapy) can weaken the immune system. Although brain tumor treatments can be more localized than other types of cancer treatments (which often affect larger areas of the body), infection is still a risk. Symptoms include aching, fever, discomfort, muscle pain and tiredness. Infection is usually treated with an antibiotic.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common in patients receiving chemotherapy for cancer and in some patients receiving radiation therapy. Many patients with cancer say they fear nausea and vomiting more than any other side effects of cancer treatment. When it is minor and treated quickly, nausea and vomiting can be quite uncomfortable but cause no serious problems. Persistent vomiting can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, weight loss, depression and avoidance of chemotherapy.
Nervous System Disturbances
Numbness, tingling, weakness, headache, difficulty speaking. Nervous system disturbances can be caused by many different factors, including cancer, cancer treatments or medications. Symptoms that result from a disruption or damage to the nerves caused by cancer surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy can appear soon after treatment or many years later.
Radiation therapies may harm the pituitary gland area in the brain. In children, this can lead to slowing of development and potential learning problems. For both children and adults, radiation also can increase risk for secondary tumors later in life.