Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea of what to expect from each of these medications. Only the most common side effects are included, so ask your doctor if there are any precautions specific to your case. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor or according to the instructions provided with the medications. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
The use of some of the most commonly prescribed medications are designed to assist with some of the symptoms that the tumor or the treatment can cause.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in higher doses:
Over-the-counter Pain Relievers
Corticosteroid drugs are used to reduce brain swelling. Swelling is common with brain tumors. Dexamethasone is most often used. It is given by mouth or IV. Decreasing swelling associated with brain tumors is the most effective way to decrease head pain.
Possible side effects include:
Steroids also increase your risk of developing
ulcers. Often, your doctor will place you on an additional medication to decrease this risk. Steroids are also associated with joint aching and an increased risk for osteoporosis.
Medications to control brain swelling are usually used short-term, avoiding the majority of side effects. Your doctor will often taper you off the corticosteroids slowly.
Anti-epileptic medication are chosen based on the potential benefits and the risks of side effects. The potential interactions with your other medication will also be considered. In any given case, one may work better than another.
Many of the anti-epileptic medication have the potential to interact with your other medication, including chemotherapies.
Possible side effects for carbamazepine include:
Possible side effects for valproic acid include:
Possible side effects for phenytoin include:
Possible side effects for levetiracetam include:
NSAIDs in higher doses, including:
Each NSAID has a slightly different chemistry and side effect profile. NSAIDs are used primarily to control pain. They do not control swelling as well as the steroid drugs, and they have side effects of their own.
There is no substitute for opioids in the treatment of severe pain. However, these drugs are addicting and the potential for opioid abuse is high.
Acetaminophen is the common pain killer used for mild-to-moderate pain. Possible side effects include allergic reactions that damage blood cells or cause rashes. Overdoses can damage the liver. Because brain tumors grow, a medication that works at first may not do so as the tumor enlarges. Doses may have to be increased or stronger medications used.
Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:
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http://www.abta.org/secure/about-brain-tumors-a-primer.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2015.
Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 17, 2015. Accessed August 17, 2015.
Brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003088-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2015.
Brain and spinal cord tumors in children. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003089-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2015.
Meningioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 30, 2015. Accessed August 17, 2015.
5/28/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance:
Tremont-Lukats IW, Ratilal BO, Armstrong T, Gilbert, MR. Antiepileptic drugs for preventing seizures in people with brain tumors.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(2):CD004424.
11/30/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. US Food and Drug Administration. Propoxyphene: withdrawal—risk of cardiac toxicity.
US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
Updated September 6, 2013. Accessed August 17, 2015.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
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