The medications most commonly prescribed for brain tumors are steroids for brain swelling (edema) and anti-epileptic drugs to control seizures.
Steroids (glucocortico-steroids) are drugs that reduce edema (swelling) in the brain. Steroids can help relieve pre-surgery symptoms, which may increase the time to make treatment decisions. Steroids may be prescribed at diagnosis, or before or after surgery. Common steroids include dexamethasone (Decadron), prednisone, and methylprednisolone. These drugs do not kill tumor cells, but can improve a patient’s condition. Steroids may be taken alone or combined with other forms of treatment. When the swelling is under control, then the dosage is gradually tapered off.
Steroids have a range of short- and long-term side effects. Common short-term side effects include insomnia, facial swelling and flushing, increased appetite, mood swings, and personality changes. Some people who take steroids for a few days or weeks do not experience side effects; others do. Side effects from long-term use of steroids, for example dexamethasone, may include cataracts, osteoporosis, muscle weakeness and diabetes. Patients should never stop taking steroids without the doctor’s knowledge. Instead, discuss possible side effects with the doctor.
Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) are medications used to control seizures. They are also called anticonvulsants, antiseizure drugs, and epilepsy drugs. A patient may be put on AEDs if he or she experiences a seizure or as a precautionary measure. Some common AEDs are phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), valproate (Depakote), levetiracetam (Keppra), gabapentin (Neurontin), topiramate (Topomax), and lamotrigine (Lamictal). The type and amount of medication is based on the level of seizure control needed and the side effects from the medication. Common side effects may include fatigue, weakness, nausea and lack of balance or coordination. A rash is an allergic reaction, and the patient must see a doctor immediately.
If the patient has not experienced seizures or if the person is seizure-free for an extended period of time, the AED may be tapered off. AEDs should never be stopped abruptly.It is important to remember that side effects of these AEDs vary greatly from person to person. If side effects are a serious problem, a doctor may change a patient’s medication.
Many medications will either increase or reduce the effect of AEDs. Some chemotherapy drugs may interact with AEDs and change the effectiveness of either or both drugs. Blood tests and other methods are used to monitor possible drug interactions.
To help your doctors recognize possible drug interactions, keep a list of all medications, including over-the-counter products. Also, keep track of symptoms that may be possible side effects.