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Radiation Therapy for a Metastatic Brain Tumor: 3 Things You Should Know

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Photo of Dr. Michael Lim

Michael Lim, M.D.

You may have been told that radiation therapy is your best treatment option for a metastatic brain tumor, also referred to as metastatic brain cancer. If you’re worried about the side effects of radiation therapy, you’re not alone.

Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Michael Lim, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Brain Tumor Center hears these concerns often. Here’s what he wants you to know about radiation therapy for brain metastases:

"As radiation therapies become more advanced, people who undergo treatments for metastatic brain tumors are living longer than ever before. Quote from Michael Lim, M.D."

1. Radiation kills cancer.

There’s a reason radiation therapy is one of the main ways doctors treat metastatic brain tumors today — it works. Radiation therapy is effective in destroying cancer cells.

Lim says radiation therapy has been shown to be as effective as surgery in several studies, and it could even reduce your chances of a tumor recurrence (the tumor coming back).

As radiation therapies become more advanced, people who undergo treatments for brain metastases are living longer than ever before.

The medical teams at Johns Hopkins use the latest research to guide their treatment recommendations and will work with you to best manage your long-term health.

2. Compare the risks and benefits of radiation therapy.

There are two main types of radiation therapy used at the Comprehensive Brain Tumor Center to treat metastatic brain tumors:

  • Whole-brain radiation therapy targets the entire brain, treating even microscopic tumors that can’t be seen on an MRI scan. Common side effects include fatigue, hair loss and memory problems.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery is a more focused therapy that aims a very high dose of radiation at only the tumor itself. Sometimes, it can be completed in a single day. The more focused dose minimizes radiation exposure to the rest of the brain. That also means the potential for fewer side effects.

With either type of radiation therapy, you will probably need follow-up appointments. This is the best way to detect any new disease early so it can be treated effectively right away.

3. Decide if radiation therapy is right for you.

Your medical team will consider many factors before discussing this treatment option with you. At Johns Hopkins, your care team is made up of some of the best medical oncologists, radiation therapists and neurosurgeons in the country.

Drawing from thousands of hours of training and experience, our team works together to determine which treatment or combination of treatments is right for each person who walks through our doors.

“When we take care of patients with brain metastases, we take into consideration many factors, such as the type of tumor, a patient’s symptoms and number of lesions. However, our goals of therapy all revolve around how to make your life better,” says Lim.

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