Find out about your options for brain tumour treatments, and complementary treatments that can be used alongside medical care.

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Understanding Brain Tumours booklet 2022

Download Section Five of our brain tumour booklet: Brain tumour treatments

  • Your treatment team will advise you on the best treatment for the tumour in your brain.
  • Depending on the type and grade of brain tumour, treatment may
    • steroids
    • surgery
    • radiation treatment
    • chemotherapy
    • palliative care

or a combination of these.

  • Complementary treatments are healing practices or products that are
    not usually part of standard medical care.
  • Traditional Māori healing methods can include rongoā Māori, romiromi or
    mirimiri, massage therapy, and spiritual healing.
  • Traditional Pacific healing treats the whole person, including your
    mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
  • If you are thinking about using complementary, traditional Māori, or
    Pacific treatments, please talk about them with your cancer treatment

  • Mā tō rōpū maimoa koe e tohutohu e pā ana ki te maimoatanga pai rawa
    mō tō puku roro.
  • Tērā pea ka uru ko ēnei maimoatanga, e ai ki te momo puku roro me te
    māhiti puku roro:
    • ngā pūtaiaki
    • mahi hāparapara
    • maimoatanga iraruke
    • mahi hahau
    • Atawhai whakangāwari

he whiriwhiringa rānei o ēnei.

  • He whakawaiwai whakaora, he hua whakaora rānei ngā maimoatanga
    whakahāngai kāore e whai wāhanga ana i te taha o ngā mahi atawhai
  • Ka taea te whakauru te rongoā Māori, te mahi romiromi, te mirimiri
    rānei, me te mahi whakaora ā-wairua, ki raro i ngā huarahi whakaora
    Māori taketake.
  • Maimoa ai te whakaora taketake o Te Moana-nui-ā-Kiwa i te katoa o te
    tangata, tae noa ki te oranga hinengaro, oranga tinana.
  • Mehemea e whakaaro ana koe ki te whakamahi i te maimoatanga
    whakahāngai, te maimoatanga Māori taketake, tēnā koa kōrero ki tō
    rōpū maimoatanga matepukupuku mō aua maimoatanga.

Treatment options

Your treatment team will advise you on the best treatment for the tumour in your brain.

Depending on the type and grade of the tumour, treatment may include a combination of:

  • steroids
  • surgery
  • radiation treatment
  • chemotherapy
  • palliative care

Sometimes the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. When this is not possible, there are treatment options that may reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.


Medications called steroids are commonly used as part of treatment for a brain tumour.

Steroids are made naturally in the body, but they can also be produced artificially and used as medication.

The main purpose of taking steroids when you have a brain tumour is to reduce the swelling in the brain.

It is important to always take the prescribed dose of steroids. Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor first.

The side effects of steroids depend on the dose and the length of treatment.


Surgery in the brain is called neurosurgery.

You may have surgery to:

  • help diagnose a brain tumour (take a biopsy)
  • remove part of the tumour (partial resection or debulking)
  • remove the whole tumour (total resection)

Types of surgery

  • Craniotomy
  • Awake craniotomy

Recovery from surgery to treat a brain tumour may take a long time. Your treatment team will talk to you about the benefits and side effects of surgery.

Samples of your tumour taken when you have a biopsy may be sent to a special laboratory to get information on the DNA.

Radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is the use of x-ray beams to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.

Radiation treatment only affects the part of the body that the beams are aimed at. 

How radiation treatment is given

  • External beam radiation treatment
  • Stereotactic radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is available at specialist treatment centres throughout New Zealand. If you need to be away from home for your treatment, help may be available for transport and accommodation costs.

Side effects of radiation treatment

People react to treatment in different ways. Side effects are usually temporary, but some may last for several weeks to a few months or they may be permanent.

Find out more about radiation treatment

Find out more about the National Travel Assistance programme


Chemotherapy uses medication to kill tumour cells or slow their growth. It affects cells throughout your body.

It is used to reduce the risk of a brain tumour returning or to control the growth of a brain tumour that cannot be removed by surgery.

How chemotherapy is given

  • As tablets (oral chemotherapy)
  • Into a vein (intravenously)

Chemotherapy side effects vary depending on the combination of medications you receive.

Some side effects of chemotherapy can be life threatening. If you develop any concerning  symptoms you must contact your treatment team, or go immediately to your nearest hospital emergency department and tell them you are receiving chemotherapy treatment.

Find out more about chemotherapy

Targeted treatment

Targeted treatment uses medication to target the damaged genes or proteins of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading.

Targeted treatments are expensive, and Pharmac has decided not to provide funding for some treatments that might be helpful for the management of a brain tumour. You may like to ask your oncologist if there are any unfunded treatments available that may be beneficial for you. 

Find out more about targeted treatment

Supportive care and palliative treatment

Anyone with a brain tumour may need supportive care. It includes the management of physical symptoms, emotional and spiritual support, and guidance to help you plan ahead.

Supportive care will mostly be provided by your primary health care team, Cancer Society support workers, and palliative care services.

Advance care planning

An important part of planning ahead is preparing an advance care plan to help you and your whānau talk about the treatments and care you may want towards the end of your life.

Find out more about advance care planning

Specialist palliative care

You may need extra support if the symptoms you are experiencing are complex or difficult to manage. Your primary care team may refer you to a specialist palliative care service. 

Traditional Māori and Pasifika healing

Traditional healing has been a central part of Māori culture for generations.

Values, belief systems and teachings from kaumātua and tohunga have seen Māori focus on total wellbeing, which includes taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whānau (the physical domain, the domain of the mind and behaviour, the spiritual domain and the whānau or social domain).

Traditional healing is also important for Pasifika peoples to help in their recovery.

It also takes a holistic approach to treating the person, where mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs are looked after together.

If you are thinking about using these treatments, please talk about them with your cancer treatment team.

Find out more about traditional healing

Mai rā anō te hauora Māori i noho ai hei wāhanga ō te ahurea Māori. Nā ngā uaratanga, te pūnaha whakapono me ngā akoranga a ngā kaumātua me ngā tohunga i kitea ai te arotahi a te Māori ki te oranga kotahi e rarawhi ana i te taha tinana, te taha hinengaro, te taha wairua me te taha whānau.

Ka whai wāhi te rongoā Māori, te romiromi, te mirimiri rānei, hei tauira atu. Ka hāngai katoa ki tarutaru otaota whenua me ngā rākau, te haumanu romiromi me te whakaoranga ā-wairua.

Ka taea etahi atu mōhiohio e pa ana ki te rongoā Māori me ngā kaiwhakarato i runga i tō mātou paetukutuku: 

Complementary and alternative treatment

It is important to discuss any additional treatments you are using with your treatment team.

Some treatments may be harmful if they are taken at the same time as medical treatments.

Complementary treatments are healing practices or products that are not usually part of standard medical care but may be used to complement medical treatments. E.g. massage, meditation, acupuncture.

Alternative treatments are used instead of medical treatment. Some alternative therapists may claim their treatments are cancer cures – this is very unlikely to be true.

Find out more about complementary and alternative medicine

Last updated: December 22, 2022