Palliative care in brain tumors

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Handb Clin Neurol


The diagnosis of a brain tumor is a life-changing event for patients and families. High-grade gliomas (especially glioblastomas) are incurable, and long-term survival is limited. Metastatic brain lesions comprise the majority of intracranial neoplasms and are a significant source of morbidity and mortality in patients with systemic cancer. Response to treatment, prognosis, and survival depends not only on the underlying pathology, but more importantly on recently defined molecular features. Other crucial predictors of survival include age and performance status. Among patients with primary brain tumors, neurologic decline and psychological distress contribute to a high symptom burden and impaired quality of life (QoL) throughout the disease trajectory. While many symptoms in central nervous system (CNS) and non-CNS cancers overlap, others predominate in the brain tumor population, including seizures, headaches, depression, fatigue, and treatment-induced toxicity, all of which can be addressed with palliative interventions. Patients, families, and caregivers also report disproportionately high supportive care needs, which frequently differ from those of other systemic cancers. In addition, progressive neurologic decline often results in impaired communication and decision-making capacity at the end of life. Early palliative care (PC) integration has become more common in systemic cancers, but remains limited in neuro-oncology. These factors combined contribute to a uniquely challenging disease course that may benefit from a multidisciplinary approach with early involvement of specialized (PC) to address tumor-related symptoms and improve QoL. We review how to approach patients with brain tumors and address prognosis, symptom management, and advance care planning with the goal of improving QoL for patients, families, and caregivers.

Medical Subject Headings

Humans; Palliative Care; Quality of Life; Brain Neoplasms; Glioma; Advance Care Planning; Terminal Care

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