Possible Side Effects

Side effects, if they do occur, are usually caused by damage to normal cells during the course of treatment. Your doctor will tell you about the potential side effects associated with your specific treatment. In general, side effects of radiation for brain tumors may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss where you received radiation, scalp irritation and muffled hearing. (These will usually resolve a month or so after treatment. However, your hair might not grow back exactly as it was before treatment.)
  • Some short-term memory loss and difficulty thinking if you are treated with whole-brain radiation therapy.
  • Loss of some brain function if large areas of the brain receive radiation. (There may also be other symptoms depending on the area of brain treated and how much radiation was given. These risks must be balanced against the risks of not using radiation and having less control of the tumor.)
  • Radiation necrosis. Rarely, a large mass of dead (necrotic) tissue forms at the site of the tumor. If this occurs, it usually develops months to years after radiation is given. Occasionally, surgery may be needed to remove the necrotic tissue.
  • Brain tissue swelling. You may get a headache or feel pressure. The health care team watches for signs of this problem. They may provide medicine to address the discomfort.
  • Damage to healthy brain tissue. Although rare, this side effect can cause headaches, seizures, or even death.
  • Harm to the pituitary gland and other areas of the brain.

Side effects of radiosurgery are usually related to sending high doses of radiation to particular areas of the skull. For instance, if you are treated for an acoustic neuroma, you might lose some hearing. A small percentage of patients treated for trigeminal neuralgia experience tingling or numbness of the face. Again, you can talk to your doctor about potential side effects; he or she will be able to tell you what you might expect.