The Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin provides a full range of services focused on the physical, emotional and social well-being of patients and their families.
Support Groups, Classes and Events
In response to COVID-19, we are offering a limited number of support groups, classes and events for patients and families dealing with cancer. There are virtual and in-person options.
Managing Your Overall Health
Patients with brain and spine tumors can experience a number of health problems that are related to their cancer. In addition, chemotherapy drugs can cause a variety of side effects. Neuro-oncologists manage their patient’s overall health and individual response to drug treatment.
Brain tumors can disrupt the normal flow of electrical signals within the brain, leading to seizures. Approximately 30 percent of brain tumor patients have experienced one or more seizures by the time of their diagnosis. Another 30 percent will have a seizure at some time as their disease progresses. All patients who have had a seizure are placed on an anti-seizure medication (one that will not interact with the patient’s chemotherapy or render it less effective). Medical management greatly reduces the risk of seizure, and most patients become seizure-free.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Drug side effects vary widely, and they depend on the specific chemotherapy agent used and the individual patient. Some drugs are tolerated better than others. For most patients, nausea can be prevented with medications. Constipation can be managed through the use of a bowel regimen. Treatment options are also available for fatigue, diarrhea and other potential side effects.
Low Blood Count
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause low blood counts (low levels of red blood cells, white blood cells and blood platelets). This increases the risk of infection, bleeding and other complications. Patients who are on chemotherapy undergo weekly blood tests to allow physicians to monitor their blood counts and intervene if necessary. If a patient’s red blood cells or platelets reach a critical level, blood transfusion can be an option. If the white blood cell count is too low, a drug called filgrastim (Neupogen) can be effective at boosting white cell production.
Patients with a low white blood cell count are at a higher risk of infection — anything from urinary tract infection to pneumonia to sepsis. The care team closely monitors all chemotherapy patients for signs of an infection. Suspected infections typically require evaluation in the emergency department and often hospitalization.
Blood Clots, Deep Vein Thrombosis
All cancer patients are at an increased risk for blood clots. (Cancer tends to make the blood “stickier,” and many patients are less mobile, which further contributes to clotting risk.) All neurological cancer patients and their families receive education on deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a clot that usually forms in the leg. Signs of DVT include a swelling of the calf (usually in just one leg) that is tender, painful or red.
DVTs are evaluated with ultrasound and managed with blood thinner medications. If a DVT breaks free, it can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be life-threatening. Patients who experience symptoms of PE (such as chest pain or shortness of breath) should be evaluated in the emergency department.
Brain and Spine Tumor FAQ
What caused my brain tumor?
We don’t know. Researchers have studied a wide variety of possible risk factors, including diet, occupational hazards, prior head injury — even water supply — but none has ever been established as a cause of primary brain tumors. Your tumor is not the result of anything you did or did not do.
Is this cancer inherited? Are my children or grandchildren at risk?
Only very rarely is a personal risk of brain tumor passed on genetically. Your children and grandchildren are not at a heightened genetic risk of a neurological cancer. Unless they are experiencing symptoms of a neurological tumor, there is no need for anyone in your family to see a doctor or have an MRI.
What treatments will I need?
Your treatment plan will depend on the type of tumor you have, your personal health and other individual factors. Most patients receive some combination of surgery, drug therapy, radiation therapy and other interventions, and many require support services. Because these services are provided by several different physicians, optimal care requires that all providers be highly coordinated.
Should I change my diet?
Nothing you ate caused your brain tumor, and there is no special diet that will cure it. The best course is to eat a well balanced diet during and after your treatment. If anything, you should be eating a diet that is slightly higher in protein to support your immune system and maintain muscle mass.
Can I take vitamins?
Taking a multivitamin once a day is sensible. However, patients are discouraged from taking antioxidants (like vitamin C) during radiation therapy or chemotherapy. At the atomic level, radiation and chemotherapy destroy cancer cells by oxidizing molecular bonds, so antioxidants can actually counteract the effects of your treatment. Taking antioxidants after your treatments are complete is not a problem.
Can I still work or travel?
Many patients are able to continue working during the active phase of their treatment and afterward. Traveling should be no problem, as long as you take your medications on time and can arrange to have your blood counts tested once a week. Some patients in the Brain and Spine Tumor Program have traveled oversees and had their blood counts faxed weekly to their care team.
Can I fly in an airplane if I have had brain surgery?
Patients who have had a brain surgery should wait 7 to 10 days following the operation to fly in an airplane. After that time, patients normally have no air travel restrictions.
Are there any new treatment options for brain tumors?
New therapies for brain tumors are constantly being developed. Because brain tumors are rare, only physicians who specialize in these cancers can be completely up to date on the latest treatment options. In many instances, physicians who specialize in neurological cancers will be able to offer patients the opportunity to participate in national clinical trials for advanced therapies.
Should I get a second opinion?
When you are diagnosed with a brain tumor, it is reasonable to seek a second opinion. Obtaining a second opinion from a qualified specialist can give you confidence about your current treatment plan. It can also open up new treatment options that have not been fully considered.
Virtual Visits Are Available
Safe and convenient virtual visits by video let you get the care you need via a mobile device, tablet or computer wherever you are. We’ll gather your medical records for you and get our experts’ input so we can offer treatment options without an in-person visit. To schedule a virtual visit, call 1-866-680-0505.
Cancer and the COVID-19 Vaccine
There is currently no data that suggests current or former cancer patients should avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Cancer can weaken your immune system, so we recommend that most patients get the vaccine as soon as possible.