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.
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: Feeling of hunger and associated weight gainAcneMuscle weakness (steroid myopathy)—most noticeable when rising from a seated position or going up stairsInsomniaIncreased blood sugarIncreased blood pressureRestlessness (less common)
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
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.
Anticonvulsants 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 these medications have the potential to interact with your other medications, including chemotherapies.
Possible side effects for carbamazepine include: Bone marrow damageMental status changesRashes/possibly severe skin reactionsLow sodium level in the blood—hyponatremia
Possible side effects for valproic acid include: Liver damageFetal damage if pregnantPancreatitisPersistent decrease in the number of blood platelets—thrombocytopeniaWeakness, sleepinessLightheadednessNausea, vomitingDiarrheaIndigestion, abdominal pain, loss of appetiteVisual disturbancesHair lossRespiratory infectionWeight gainRashes
Possible side effects for phenytoin include: Mental status changesRashesNausea, vomiting
constipationLiver and bone marrow damageGum swellingRespiratory inflammations
Possible side effects for levetiracetam include: Mental status changesIrritabilityLoss of contact with reality—psychosisRashes
NSAIDs in higher doses, including: IndomethacinNaproxenCelecoxib
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.
Possible side effects include: Stomach irritation, ulceration, and bleedingAllergic reactionsKidney damageLiver damage
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.
Possible side effects include: LightheadednessSleepiness/SomnolenceNausea and vomitingItchinessConstipationAllergic reactionsDecreased respiratory driveOverdose—can lead to death
NSAIDs in lower doses
Possible side effects include: Stomach irritationUlcerationBleedingAllergic reactionsKidney damageLiver damage
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.
The desired effect is not achievedAn undesired effect appearsIf you are taking aspirin or other NSAIDs and experience new stomach symptoms
If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines: Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule. Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.Plan ahead for refills if you need them.Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
About brain tumors: A primer for patients and caregivers. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at:
http://www.abta.org/secure/about-brain-tumors-a-primer.pdf. 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. DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
5/28/2008 DynaMed Plus 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 Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance:
http://www.dynamed.com. 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
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.