Brain cancer: final stages

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Brain cancer during the final stages can be unpredictable and overwhelming for the patient and for the family. It is important to understand what to expect during the final stages to be prepared and maintain a strong support system.

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Statistics

According to American Cancer Society statistics, 22,070 people (12,010 men and 10,060 women) will be diagnosed with brain cancer; 12,920 of whom will die. Three out of five patients who suffer from brain cancer are male. Brain cancer can appear at any age, although cases are most common in early or middle adulthood.

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms during the late stages are dependent on the location of the tumour and its size. They may include vomiting, seizures, eyesight problems such as double vision, dizziness, abnormal pulse, headaches and difficulty walking or speaking and high blood pressure.

In the final stages of brain cancer, cancer cells often spread not only within the brain but to the lungs and other parts of the body. Seizures may occur and tumours can cause the body to weaken and feel paralysed. Decreased food intake and darkened urine production also are symptoms that occur during the final stages of brain cancer.

Emotional Changes

The patient's mood may transform and he may become agitated more easily. He also may become withdrawn and suicidal. If steroids are used he may gain weight and his appearance may change. Patients will increasingly become withdrawn, confused and their skin will become cool to the touch.

Treatment

Some brain tumours may be removed by surgery with little or no damage to the brain, but the final stages are often more advanced and may involve unreachable tumours. Some treatments, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy focus on removing or stopping cell growth. However, these treatments are not without side effects, such as vomiting or nausea and also can affect the function of the brain. A physician can provide medication to help limit the nausea and vomiting, but the effect on the brain may not be avoided.

Management

Pain management is used to control pain and other symptoms that will occur during the final stages of brain cancer. If brain cancer has spread into the bone, it can cause severe pain in the entire body and will require regular management of pain through medication and alternative methods. Some of the treatments that may be used include physical exercise, massage therapy, pain medication, herbal remedies, acupuncture and nutritional changes to decrease pain and alleviate symptoms, as well as support the function of the immune system and organs.

Consideration

During this final stage it will be important to decide whether hospice care or home hospice care is the best option for the patient with brain cancer. The changes resulting from the final stages of brain cancer can be difficult for a family and the patient to deal with. It is therefore important to communicate and determine what care options are available and would best suit the needs of the patient.

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