Treating Brain Cancer

If you are newly diagnosed or have a family member who is seeking treatment for a brain tumor, Virginia Mason in Seattle offers expert care from a team of physicians and providers. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (206) 223-6193.

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

Patients with brain tumors are seen at Virginia Mason by a multidisciplinary team that includes neurologists and neurosurgeons, who specializes in diagnosing and treating tumors of the nervous system, including spinal tumors.

In addition, Virginia Mason's Neuro-Oncology Tumor Board — which includes experts from medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology and pathology — review individual cases. These physicians are joined by other specialists as needed.

Together, the experts and specialists at Virginia Mason develop a unique plan of treatment for each patient who is presented at the tumor board that addresses the particular aspects of their disease. The care team will then carefully follow the patient from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.

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.

Support and Survivorship

We support our patients with brain tumors beyond their treatment. Our emphasis on cancer, pre-cancerous identification and surveillance, wellness and rehabilitation enhances quality of life for our patients. Patient education programs continue to provide support and information after treatment and into recovery.

If you have questions or would like to make an appointment with one of our specialists, please call us at (206) 223-6193.