Complications and side effects of brain tumour procedures

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An in-depth look at the side effects and complications that may occur after brain surgery.

Key points

  • Complications after brain surgery are not common but parents should watch their child for signs and symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and steroids may all cause side effects for your child.

A complication is a medical problem that occurs after surgery, treatment, or illness. A side effect is an unwanted effect of a medication or other treatment.

Complications and side effects may occur either as a result of the brain tumour itself, or as a result of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or steroid treatment. You may see them right away, or over time. Some side effects are minor and do not last long, while others are more serious.

Your child's treatment team will discuss the potential side effects with you before the treatment begins, and can explain how likely it is that your child will have a particular side effect. They will also be able to help you deal with side effects and complications as they occur.

This section describes possible complications from various treatments, and offers suggestions on preventing or dealing with them. For detailed information, please click the links on the left.

Complications from brain surgery

Problems, or complications, after brain tumour surgery are not common. To be safe, you should watch for certain symptoms in your child after the operation, and when you go home. Contact the treatment team right away if you notice any of these symptoms, which may indicate an infection or other emergency:

  • fever (a temperature of 37.8°C [100.0°F] taken under the arm, or 38.5°C [101.3°F] taken in the mouth)
  • redness or swelling along the surgical incision (cut)
  • fluid coming from the incision
  • headaches
  • vomiting

Other potential complications from surgery include:

  • swallowing problems
  • mutism (inability to speak), lasting days or even months

Side effects from chemotherapy

The side effects from chemotherapy drugs depend on the type of drugs, the dose of drug, and your child’s reaction. Some children may not have any side effects. Potential side effects from chemotherapy include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • allergic reaction
  • fatigue
  • low blood counts
  • feeding or appetite problems
  • sore mouth or throat (mucousitis)
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • pain and numbness at the ends of nerves in hands, feet, or jaw (neuropathy)
  • hearing loss
  • hair loss
  • infections of central lines, causing fever and/or swelling at the site where the line enters the skin

Side effects from radiation therapy

Potential side effects from radiation therapy include:

  • fatigue
  • hair loss
  • nausea or vomiting
  • skin problems

Side effects from steroids

Potential side effects during steroid treatment include:

  • stomach problems
  • personality changes, such as irritability, mood swings, crying easily, or bizarre behaviour
  • sleeping problems
  • increased appetite
  • increase in thirst and more peeing
  • water retention
  • skin problems
  • weakness
  • increased risk of infection
  • weight gain

Potential side effects from long-term use of steroids include:

  • bone loss (osteoporosis)
  • high blood pressure
  • muscle wasting

Other complications and side effects

Brain tumours may cause seizures, or the scar from surgery may eventually lead to seizures.

Your child may need a feeding tube to help him get enough nutrition. Feeding tubes may cause various problems, including:

  • feeding tube shifting or falling out
  • blocked feeding tube
  • diarrhea or vomiting
  • skin problems
Last updated: July 10th 2009