Managing the Side Effects of a Brain Tumor and Its Treatment

This page discusses side effects and how to manage them. These are specific to brain tumors and their treatment. For managing side effects common to all cancers and their treatment, visit: Managing the Side Effects of Cancer and Cancer Treatment.

Only the most basic problems are listed. Ask your doctor if there are any other steps you need to take. Use each of these medicines as advised by your doctor or package instructions. If you have any questions, call your doctor.

Brain tumors and how they’re treated cause symptoms. These medicines will help you manage them.

Problems caused by brain tumors:

Swelling in the Brain

Many brain tumors cause swelling around them. This can lead to problems with how the brain works. The problems you have depend on where the tumor is. Corticosteroids ease swelling. This will improve how the brain works. Dexamethasone is the most commonly used.

Possible side effects:

  • Higher chances of infection
  • Infections that last longer
  • Increase in hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Heartburn
  • Restlessness

Seizures

Brain tumors may cause seizures. The normal pattern of activity in nerve cells is disrupted. This can cause strange sensations, emotions, and behavior. It can also cause convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.

Common medicines:

  • Carbamazepine
  • Ethosuximide
  • Gabapentin
  • Lamotrigine
  • Oxcarbazepine
  • Phenytoin
  • Primidone
  • Valproic acid
  • Diazepam rectal gel
  • Clonazepam

Carbamazepine    TOP

Common brand names:

  • Tegretol
  • Carbatrol

Carbamazepine lowers the action of the nerves in the brain.

Possible side effects:

  • Blurred vision
  • Nystagmus—rhythmic back and forth eye movements
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Skin reactions
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Rashes
  • Heart problems

Ethosuximide

Common brand name: Zarontin

This medicine slows messages in the nerves that control muscles.

Possible side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of hunger
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling tired
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Change in urine color

Call your doctor if you have signs of infection such as a fever or sore throat.

Gabapentin

Common brand name: Neurontin

Lowers the amount of a certain protein in the brain to calm it.

Possible side effects:

  • Sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling tired
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Weight gain
  • Nystagmus—rhythmic back and forth eye movements

Lamotrigine

Common brand name: Lamictal

This medicine may calm nerve tissue.

Call your doctor right away for:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Swollen glands
  • Having more seizures

Other possible side effects:

  • Double or blurred vision
  • Clumsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Drowsiness

Oxcarbazepine

Common brand name: Trileptal

This may change how the nerves spread impulses. This may calm the nerve tissue.

Possible side effects:

  • Vision changes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Feeling tired

Phenytoin

Common brand name: Dilantin

Phenytoin promotes the loss of sodium in nerve fibers. This lowers nerve excitability and the spread of nerve impulses.

Possible side effects:

  • Bleeding
  • Swollen gums
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Liver and bone marrow damage
  • Nerve and brain problems
  • Nystagmus—rhythmic back and forth eye movements

Primidone

Common brand name: Mysoline

Primidone may work by blocking the repeated spread of nerve impulses.

Possible side effects:

  • Rash
  • Confusion
  • Nystagmus—rhythmic back and forth eye movements
  • Clumsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness

Valproic Acid

Common brand names:

  • Depakene
  • Depakote

Valproic acid raises the amounts of a certain protein. This holds back nerve transmissions in parts of the brain.

Possible side effects:

  • Liver damage
  • Damage to the baby in the uterus if pregnant
  • Pancreatitis
  • Platelet count that is too low—thrombocytopenia
  • Tiredness, sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion, belly pain, loss of hunger
  • Vision problems
  • Hair loss
  • Respiratory infection
  • Weight gain
  • Rashes

Benzodiazepines

Common names:

  • Diazepam
  • Clonazepam

Diazepam is used more often than clonazepam. They act on nerves by having a calming effect on them.

Possible side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Breathing problems
  • Headaches
  • Dependency
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Sources:

About brain tumors. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at: https://www.abta.org/about-brain-tumors. Updated August 10, 2018.
Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 13, 2016. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Meningioma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116926/Meningioma. Updated January 19, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Other drug treatments for adult brain and spinal cord tumors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/treating/other-drug-treatments.html. Updated November 8, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors. Updated June 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 8/10/2018

 

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