Brain tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), but both types are serious conditions that require immediate attention and expert treatment. Brain tumor treatment options vary significantly depending on the specific type of brain tumor and the stage of the disease.
Overview and Symptoms
Benign Brain Tumors
- Benign (non-cancerous) brain and spinal tumors often stay in one place and don’t spread. These include:
- Schwannoma, (also known as vestibular or acoustic neuroma) are benign tumors of the hearing nerve.
- Chordoma, a benign tumor that forms at either the base of the skull or the end of the spine.
- Pituitary adenoma, a benign, slow-growing tumor arising from the pituitary gland.
Malignant Brain Tumors
- Most frequently malignant brain tumors include:
- Gliomas, malignant tumors that arise in the supportive tissue of the brain. They are equivalent to cancerous lesions. Some of the more common forms of glioma include astrocytoma, glioblastoma and oligodendroglioma.
- Meningiomas, tumors forming from the protective lining of the brain cavity, which can turn into malignant tumors. These can occur in the spinal cord or brain.
- Secondary brain tumors from cancer of the body or skin that has metastasized to the brain.
- Metastases are cancer cell deposits that have spread from an original or “primary site” to one or more secondary locations or organs elsewhere in the body.
- Secondary brain tumors, always malignant, can most frequently originate from lung, breast, melanoma (skin), or lymphoma cancers.
- Neurological complications such as headache or confusion that may result from tumor spread, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy treatments.
Brain Tumor Diagnosis
Your initial visit involves a neurological evaluation and a review of any existing imaging studies that you might have. You may also need additional imaging (magnetic resonance angiography, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, spinal tap, PET/CT, thallium scan) to find out more about the tumor and the area where it developed.
Brain tumor treatment options depend on your specific type of tumor, as well as its size and location. Our experts will take an individualized approach to your care, which may include:
- 1. Surgery, to remove tumors (and tissue for biopsy). Our specially trained neurosurgeons perform several hundred brain tumor procedures each year.
- 2. Radiation, using high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation or particles to treat cancer. High doses of radiation can kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing. Radiation therapy is a useful tool for treating cancer because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than many of the surrounding normal cells.
- CyberKnife treatment is non-invasive and offers precise targeting accuracy, with minimal exposure to surrounding critical healthy tissue. CyberKnife is especially effective at treating hard-to-reach tumors and its high radiation dose allows for a shorter course of treatment compared to traditional radiation therapy.
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy
- Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a type of fractionated radiation therapy that is especially effective at treating diffuse, larger tumors in critical locations, such as behind the eye. IMRT is usually delivered in small doses over a long course to minimize short- and long-term neurological side effects.
Whole Brain Radiation
- Whole brain radiation, another type of fractionated therapy, targets multiple tumors — large, small and undetectable — deep within the brain. This therapy is typically used to treat metastatic disease (that is, cancer that has spread from another organ or site to the brain), and to reduce the risk of tumor recurrence following surgery and in areas remote from the surgical site.
- 3. Chemotherapy, using drugs to target cancer cells. Your neuro-oncologist will help coordinate your care and talk with you and your family about all treatment decisions. The doctor may prescribe chemotherapy with radiation, or a combination of different types of chemotherapy — systemic and/or intraventricular. Systemic chemotherapies are anti-cancer drugs that are either injected into the blood stream or ingested and distributed throughout the body to kill cancer cells. Intraventricular chemotherapy delivers anti-cancer drugs into the cerebral spinal fluid to bathe the brain and spinal cord. Intraventricular chemotherapy attacks any cancer cells that are present and may help prevent the cancer from spreading.
Learn MoreThe Department of Neurology provides a full range of both inpatient and outpatient neurological services through a variety of subspecialty clinics, including Cognitive Neurology, Epilepsy, Stroke, Neuromuscular Disease, Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders, Neuro-ophthalmology, Neuro-oncology, Neuro-HIV, Neurogenetics, Multiple Sclerosis, and Sleep Disorders.