Radiation and chemotherapy can help treat many types of brain tumors, but they also give survivors a higher chance of getting a different type of cancer later in life.
When a brain or spinal cord tumor comes back, even after many years, it is called a recurrence. But sometimes a survivor can get a completely new type of cancer different from the first one. Treatment for one cancer gives survivors a higher chance of getting a different cancer later in their lives.
Most common secondary cancers
- Skin cancers: Pediatric brain tumor survivors who were treated with radiation have a higher chance of getting basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma – two types of skin cancer – in the area where they received radiation.
- Thyroid cancer: Radiation to the brain or spinal cord may affect the thyroid gland, which is in the front part of the neck. This can give survivors a greater chance of thyroid cancer.
- Bone tumors: Malignant bone tumors, called osteogenic sarcoma, can grow in the bones of the skull and spine that were exposed to radiation.
- Blood cancers: Blood cancers, also called leukemia, are mostly caused by certain kinds of chemotherapy and begin inside the bone. Getting leukemia after treatment for brain and spinal cord tumors is rare.
- Other brain tumors: Radiation to the brain gives survivors a higher chance of getting other kinds of brain tumors. The most common is a tumor called meningioma. Meningiomas grow on the outer covering of the brain and are slow-growing. About 90% of meningiomas are benign (don’t spread to other parts of the body, but may grow larger and cause serious problems). Less often, new malignant brain tumors grow in childhood brain tumor survivors.
What you can do about secondary cancers
Even thinking about getting another kind of cancer can cause survivors and those who care for them a lot of worry. Most survivors will not have this happen to them. Still, it’s important that parents and survivors pay attention to any symptoms that might be signs of a second cancer. It’s also important that survivors go to all of their appointments with the long-term follow-up clinic team and primary doctor.
It’s also important to:
- Stay safe in the sun. Use sunscreen whenever you’re outside in the sun. Don’t use tanning beds. Look over your own skin every month and report anything you have questions about to your doctor right away. See a dermatologist (skin doctor) every year.
- Have a doctor check your thyroid gland every year and check out any nodules that can be felt.
- See your doctor if you have any neurological changes like new or worse headaches, nausea or vomiting that you can’t explain, a slow loss of feeling or movement in an arm or a leg, trouble speaking, or changes to your personality.