Tips On What To Do After a Brain Tumor Diagnosis, Be Smart About Your Next Move

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Proper education about testing, treatment and care partners is critical to patient health, advises Dr. Brian Beyerl of Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists.

Dr. Brian Beyerl, a brain tumor specialist at Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists (ANS), applies the latest surgical technique to remove a mass

Having a brain tumor is one of the most significant and emotional experiences of a person’s life. Working with an experienced neurosurgeon who provides guidance and empowerment along the journey can make all the difference in the world.

Every year, 24,000 primary brain tumors are diagnosed in the U.S. alone. While the diagnosis is often paralyzing, having a proactive plan for what to do next is crucial for ensuring the best outcome.

“Hearing the words ‘You have a brain tumor’ automatically sends people into panic mode,” says Dr. Brian Beyerl, a neurosurgeon at Atlantic Neurosurgical Specialists (ANS). “Learning that your headaches, nausea, seizures or mood swings are actually being caused by a brain tumor is never easy to digest. In many cases, patients don’t know what to think, let alone what they should do to advocate for their health. However, having a sound action plan can mean the difference between life and death.”

There are many types of brain tumors – from benign cystic lesions to glioblastoma multiformes, the most common and deadliest of malignant primary brain tumors in adults. While each case must be evaluated on an individual basis, patients and their loved ones must educate themselves about certain fundamentals so they can be proactive in their own treatment and care.

Dr. Beyerl offers these tips to patients who have been diagnosed with a brain tumor:

1.    Receive the appropriate diagnostic testing.

There are two primary types of diagnostic tests that neurosurgeons use to examine the brain: CT scans and MRIs. CT scans, also known as CAT scans, are best for preliminary screening. They are better tolerated by patients, quicker to perform and less costly. They are also not as sensitive or as accurate as MRIs in showing anatomic detail or visualizing the tumor. Because of this, using CT scans in isolation, especially when performed without contrast, can result in severe misdiagnoses. Insist on getting an MRI to ensure your doctor has the most accurate information about what is going on in your brain before proceeding to treat it.

2. Explore treatment options.

Viable treatment options vary based on the nature and location of the tumor. For example, with a meningioma, which is a mass that slowly grows from the covering of the brain and spinal cord, a combination of removal and radiation may be used depending on the accessibility of the tumor. There are often alternative courses of treatment available, so ask your doctor about – and do your research on – all of your options including minimally invasive surgeries and non-invasive techniques such as CyberKnife®. These innovations reduce trauma to the brain and require less cutting, resulting in shorter hospital stays, faster recoveries and better outcomes than traditional surgery.

3. Realistically consider the risks.

Have a frank conversation with your doctor about the potential implications of each treatment. While no one enjoys thinking about less-than-perfect scenarios, risks like infection and other complications exist with any kind of treatment. Will the brain function at ‘100 percent’ again? Will you feel like yourself? What are the short- and long-term side effects? What type of follow-up care is needed? Knowing what to expect will help you prepare for recovery.

4. Find a doctor who will be your partner along the journey.

There’s no substitute for a doctor’s credentials and experience, but the softer skills – bedside     manner, empathy and communication – are also supremely important. You should look for a neurosurgeon you feel comfortable with and who is committed to your care long term. He or she should view you not only as a patient, but as a partner in your health.

“Having a brain tumor is one of the most significant and emotional experiences of a person’s life,” Dr. Beyerl acknowledges. “Working with an experienced neurosurgeon who provides guidance and empowerment along the journey can make all the difference in the world.”

For more information on options for managing and treating brain tumors, contact ANS at 973.285.7800 or visit ansdocs.com.

Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists (ANS) is New Jersey’s largest neurosurgical practice and one of the most advanced in the country. Since its founding in 1958, ANS has specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders affecting the nervous system. Its Brain Tumor Center – co-directed by Yaron A. Moshel, MD, PhD and Brian D. Beyerl, MD, FACS – is known for its cutting edge treatments and therapies, many of which involve minimally invasive. ANS sponsors The Center for Hope Foundation, a dedicated support group for brain tumor patients and their families.

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Nancy Gross