Brain Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment for a brain tumor is determined based on the type, size and location of the tumor, as well as the patient's overall health. Surgery is frequently performed to remove all or as much of the tumor as possible. In some cases, tumors can be completely cured with only surgery, without the need for further treatment. Advances in radiation therapy, chemotherapy and medications can also contribute to effective treatment and the control of symptoms.

Neuro-Oncology Tumor Board

The Neuro-Oncology Tumor Board is a multi-disciplinary group which reviews all patients with tumors of the nervous system, including spinal tumors. The members include representatives from Pathology, Radiology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Radiation Therapy, Medical Oncology, Nursing and Cancer Registry. The Neuro-Oncology Tumor Board meets on the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month.

Appropriate treatments are discussed, MRI films, clinical and pathologic information are reviewed and a group recommendation regarding treatment is provided.

Patients or their physicians are invited to send films via Federal Express, accompanied by a short clinical scenario to:
Virginia Mason
Buck Pavilion, Level 2
1100 Ninth Ave.
Seattle, WA 98101

Brain Cancer Research

Our internationally recognized research center can provide access to current clinical studies for patients being treated for brain tumors. The brain tumor care team can help patients determine if a clinical trial may be right for them.

Support and Survivorship

We support our patients with brain tumors beyond their treatment, with educational events, support groups and more.

Brain Tumor Treatment Options


The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. Some tumors can be completely removed, while others only partially or not at all. Partial removal can still help to relieve symptoms by reducing pressure on the brain and reducing the size of the tumor to be treated by radiation or chemotherapy. Virginia Mason surgeons use the latest computer-assisted neurosurgery techniques, allowing the best visualization of the tumor and brain for the most effective treatment possible.

Radiation Therapy

If a tumor cannot be removed by surgery, or if it is only partially removed, the next option is radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays aimed at the tumor site to kill cancer cells. Physicians who administer radiation therapy are called radiation oncologists. Types of radiation therapy include:

  • External beam radiation - This form of radiation therapy delivers radiation to the area of the brain where the tumor is located, or it can be applied to the whole brain. Whole brain radiation can be used following surgery to kill any remaining tumor cells or to treat multiple tumors. A course of therapy often lasts five to six weeks. The use of specialized radiation sensitizing drugs with treatments can increase the cancer-killing effects of radiation even as less of it is used. Patients benefit from receiving a more effective treatment with reduced exposure to radiation.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery - Radiosurgery can be an option when a brain tumor cannot be removed with traditional surgery. Stereotactic radiosurgery uses multiple beams of radiation precisely focused on the tumor. Using computer-generated 3-D images of the brain to target the beams, high doses of radiation are delivered to the tumor with minimal exposure to surrounding tissues. Radiosurgery at Virginia Mason involves collaboration among a team of medical experts from neurosurgery, radiation oncology and diagnostic radiology.


Chemotherapy treatment consists of powerful anticancer agents usually given intravenously, as an IV solution. The treatment works by stopping the division of cell growth in the body, essentially killing a growing cancer. However, because chemotherapy cannot distinguish between good and bad cells, all cells stop dividing. Rapidly dividing cells, such as those found in hair follicles and in bone marrow, are particularly prone to the toxic effects of chemotherapy. For this reason, patients undergoing treatment may lose some of their hair and are at risk of developing anemia (low blood cell production) which may bring on chronic fatigue.

A course of chemotherapy may consist of several cycles of treatment spaced six to eight weeks apart, daily treatments during radiation therapy, or chemotherapy given for five days out of each 28 day cycle. Physicians who administer chemotherapy are called medical oncologists or neuro-oncologists.

Even in cases in which chemotherapy does not cure the disease, medical studies have shown that this form of treatment helps patients live longer and more comfortably.

Drug Therapy

Specialized drugs are sometimes used in the treatment for brain tumors for controlling increased intracranial pressure, swelling and seizure activity. Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli are conditions associated with some primary tumors and are preventable or treatable with blood thinning medications. Pain medications are also used to control the symptoms of brain tumors.

Experimental Treatment

Experimental or investigational therapies not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or new combinations of available treatments may be offered in clinical research studies. Your doctor will tell you more about the risks and expected benefits of treatment. In addition, as new treatment options become available, your doctor, along with your input, will determine if they are an option for you.