Cortisone treatment for brain tumours

FAU researchers investigate risks of life-saving treatment

Cortisone is a powerful treatment in brain tumour therapy – although studies by FAU researchers have indicated the need for caution in using this medication in therapy. Neuro-oncologist Dr. Nicolai Savaskan and his team have found that cortisone can accelerate the growth of tumour cells. The results of the study by researchers at the Department of Neurosurgery at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen have now been published on the PLOS ONE website.

Cortisone and cortisone derivatives – synthetic materials that are more effective and have fewer side effects – are administered to patients with brain tumours to treat oedemas in the brain. Such accumulations of serum around the tumour are a common symptom of the illness. Oedemas cause swelling in the brain and increase pressure inside the skull to dangerous levels. In the worst case, the swelling can cause pressure on the respiratory centre above the cervical spine, quickly leading to suffocation. Physicians often use dexamethasone – a widely-available and highly-effective cortisone derivative – to treat oedema.

Oedema are caused by tumour cells which damage surrounding tissue and cells, making them more permeable. Cortisone stabilises the cell membranes and tissue, and reduces swelling in the brain, often within hours. However, cortisone also stimulates the liver, which releases more glucose into the bloodstream. This reaction is disastrous as glucose fuels the growth of the tumour.

Despite the risks, there is no alternative medication

‘Despite the risks, dexamethasone is a life-saving treatment for patients with brain tumours,’ says Dr. Nicolai Savaskan, who is leading the team behind the study. ‘Unfortunately there are currently no alternatives to cortisone which are capable of treating life-threatening swelling in the brain and saving patients’ lives. This is why we still recommend that cortisone is used under clinical supervision despite our findings.’ The researchers now aim to reduce the risks of cortisone treatment to patients as far as possible and improve the combination of cortisone treatment and chemotherapy.

The full article is available at:

Further information:

PD Dr. Nicolai Savaskan
Phone: +49 9131 8534626

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