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What is the treatment for brain tumors?

Specific treatment for brain tumors will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Type, location, and size of the tumor
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include (alone or in combination):

  • Surgery. Surgery is usually the first step in the treatment of brain tumors. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while maintaining neurological function. A biopsy may be done first to examine the types of cells the tumor is made of for a diagnosis. This is frequently done if the tumor is in an area with sensitive structures around it that may be injured if the whole tumor is surgically removed.
  • Chemotherapy (there are many types) 
  • Radiation therapy (there are many types)
  • Steroids (to treat and prevent swelling especially in the brain)
  • Antiseizure medication (to treat and prevent seizures associated with intracranial pressure)
  • Placement of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt (also called a VP shunt). This is a tube that is placed into the fluid filled spaces of the brain called ventricles. The other end of the tube is placed into the abdomen to help drain excess fluid that can build up in the brain and cause an increase in pressure in the brain.
  • Supportive care (to minimize the side effects of the tumor or treatment), such as pain relief and stress reduction techniques 
  • Rehabilitation (to regain lost motor skills and muscle strength; speech, physical, and occupational therapists may be involved in the health care team)
  • Antibiotics (to treat and prevent infections)
  • Continuous follow-up care (to manage disease, detect recurrence of the tumor, and to manage late effects of treatment)
  • Hospice care for those who determine that continued aggressive treatment will not provide a benefit 

Newer therapies that may be used to treat brain tumors include the following:

  • Stereotactic radiosurgery. A new technique that focuses high doses of radiation at the tumor site from many different angles, while sparing the surrounding normal tissue, with the use of photon beams from a linear accelerator or cobalt X-rays.
  • Gene therapy. A special gene is added to a virus that is injected into the brain tumor. An antivirus drug is then given which kills the cancer cells that have been infected with the altered virus. This is still considered an experimental treatment.
  • Chemotherapy wafers. Wafers containing a cancer-killing drug, BCNU, are inserted directly into the area of the brain tumor during surgery.
  • Targeted therapy. Newer drugs that are aimed at specific parts of tumor cells, or at other cells that help them grow.  For example, a drug called bevacizumab affects a tumor's ability to make new blood vessels. It may be helpful for glioblastomas in adults. Other drugs can now target growth factors. 
  • Electric field treatments. Electrodes are placed along the scalp to provide a mild electric current that may affect tumor cells more than normal brain cells.
  • Brain tumor vaccines. Cancer vaccines channel the body's own immunity against the tumor as a way of treatment. This is still considered an experimental treatment.


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