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by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Chemotherapy for Brain Tumors

Chemotherapy is medicine used to kill cancer cells. It enters the bloodstream and travels through the body. It can be given by mouth or IV.
Many chemotherapy medicines cannot get to the brain because of the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from harm. This will be factored in by the care team when choosing which therapy to use.

Chemotherapy Drugs

There are many kinds of chemotherapy drugs. One will be chosen based on the type of tumor and where it is found. Chemotherapy drugs for brain tumors may be:
  • Carboplatin
  • Carmustine (BCNU) or lomustine (CCNU)
  • Cisplatin
  • Procarbazine
  • Temozolomide
  • Methotrexate
  • Vincristine

Side Effects

Chemotherapy can result in a range of side effects. Some may be severe or deadly. Common ones are:
Chemotherapy can result in a range of side effects. Some may be severe or deadly. Common ones are:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling tired
  • Loss of hunger
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood cell counts—which can lead to thrombocytopenia (low platelets), leukopenia (low white blood cells), and anemia (low red blood cells)
There are many ways to manage these problems. Medicines and lifestyle changes are the most common. In some people, the chemotherapy dose or length of cycles may be changed to lower the risk of severe problems.


Adult central nervous system tumors treatment (PDQ®)–Health professional version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/hp/adult-brain-treatment-pdq. Accessed March 15, 2022.
Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/astrocytoma-and-oligodendroglioma-in-adults. Accessed March 15, 2022.
Chemotherapy for adult brain and spinal cord tumors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/treating/chemotherapy.html. Accessed March 15, 2022.
Meningioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/meningioma. Accessed March 15, 2022.
Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors. Accessed March 15, 2022.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 11/2021
  • Update Date: 03/15/2022