Discharge Instructions for a Brain Tumor

You have been diagnosed with a brain tumor. This is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the brain. Treatment for brain tumors may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these 3. Be sure to follow any specific instructions given to you by your healthcare provider. The guidelines provided here are for general care.

Make sure you:

  • Understand what you can and cannot do

  • Keep your follow-up appointments

  • Call your healthcare provider if you have any questions or are concerned about any symptoms

Home care after surgery

Surgery is often done to diagnose or to remove some or all of a brain tumor. Surgery is done through a small or large opening in your skull (burr hole or craniotomy). Recovery depends on many factors, such as the extent of the surgery and the severity of the disease. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to do at home following surgery. They may recommend the following:

  • Increase your activity gradually.

  • Don’t drive until your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

  • If you have stitches or staples, ask when to have them removed.

  • Shower as needed, but keep your incision dry. You may wash your hair with mild soap after your stitches or staples have been removed. Pat it dry. Don’t use oils, powders, lotions, or creams on your incision.

  • Don’t lift anything heavy until you’re told you can.

  • Take your medicines exactly as directed. If you have side effects, call your healthcare provider rather than not taking your medicines. 

  • You might have to be weaned off certain medicines such as steroids (such as dexamethasone) and anticonvulsants (medicines to prevent seizures). Make sure to get clear instructions from your healthcare provider. 

Home care after chemotherapy

Talk to your healthcare provider about what to do at home following chemotherapy for a brain tumor. They will likely advise the following. 

Prevent mouth sores

Many people get mouth sores during chemotherapy. So, don’t be discouraged if you do, even if you are following all your healthcare provider's instructions. Do the following to help prevent mouth sores or to ease discomfort:

  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal.

  • Don’t use dental floss if your platelet count is low, because you'll be at increased risk for bleeding. Your healthcare provider will tell you if this is the case.

  • Use an oral swab or special soft toothbrush if your gums bleed during regular brushing.

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed.

  • If you can’t tolerate regular methods, use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda with a quart of water. Swish and spit.

  • Watch your mouth and tongue for white patches. This can be a sign of fungal infection, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about these patches. Medicine can be prescribed to help you fight the fungal infection.

Manage other side effects

  • Ask your healthcare provider about exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. Walk as much as you can without becoming dizzy or weak.

  • Let your healthcare provider know if you have a fever or your throat is sore. You may have an infection that needs treatment.

  • Remember, many people feel sick and lose their appetites during treatment. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up:

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell if you are reacting strongly to food.

    • Be sure to cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you prevent infection.

    • Eat foods that are soft. They are less likely to cause stomach irritation.

  • Keep clean. During treatment your body can’t fight germs very well:

    • Take short baths or showers with warm water. Don't use very hot or cold water.

    • Use moisturizing soap. Treatment can make your skin dry.

    • Apply moisturizing lotion several times a day to help relieve dry skin.

Home care after radiation therapy

Here’s what to do at home following radiation therapy for a brain tumor.

Skin care 

  • Don’t scrub or use soap on the treated area.

  • Ask your therapy team which lotion to use.

  • Protect the treated area from the sun. Ask your therapy team about using a sunscreen.

  • Don’t remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it’s OK. Don’t scrub or use soap on the marks when you wash. Let water run over them and pat them dry.

  • Protect your skin from heat or cold. Don't use hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, or ice packs.

  • Wear soft, loose clothing to prevent rubbing of your skin.

  • Don't go in pools or hot tubs during your treatment.

Other home care

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat foods high in protein and calories.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids, unless directed otherwise.

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any vitamins.

  • Be prepared for hair loss in the area being treated.

  • If your mouth or throat becomes dry or sore, sip cool water. Ice chips may also help.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Signs of infection around the surgical incision (redness, drainage, warmth, pain)

  • The incision opens up or pulls apart

  • Confusion or hallucinations

  • Fainting or “blacking out”

  • Loss of memory or trouble speaking

  • Double or blurred vision; partial or total loss of vision

  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in your face, arms, hands, legs, or feet

  • Stiffness in your neck

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or chills, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Severe sensitivity to light (photophobia) or severe headache

  • Seizure

  • Trouble controlling your bowels or bladder

  • Headaches that don't go away, or get worse 

  • Excessive fatigue

  • Nausea or diarrhea that doesn't go away

  • New rash

  • Any pain or swelling in your lower legs or calves, which could be a blood clot blocking a vein