Making an accurate diagnosis of brain cancer can be difficult, but pinpointing the exact type of cancer helps the medical team create the most effective treatment plan. Once the tumor has been identified, a treatment plan may include:
Surgery: Treatment of brain cancer usually includes surgery to resect (remove) as much of the tumor as possible. Since malignant tumors often intrude into healthy tissue, complete removal of all cancer cells may not possible, so the neurosurgeon will remove as much as possible without damaging nearby brain tissue and causing neurological damage. (See more about our Clinical Neuro-oncology Program.)
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy, or the use of cancer-fighting medicines, is usually given systemically (meaning to the whole body) and may be given as a pill, an injection, or an IV drip. Chemotherapy may be used before surgery to help shrink a tumor, or as follow-up to kill off any cancer cells left after surgery. The challenge is that the brain has a defense mechanism called the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain against toxins in the blood stream. Chemotherapy drugs are usually not able to cross the blood-brain barrier to attack the tumor itself. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine are currently testing new drugs, new ways of delivering those drugs, and a combination of the two as strategies for fighting brain tumors.
Radiation therapy (radiotherapy): Precisely targeted beams of radiation can be an alternative to surgery for brain cancer, or can be used to kill cancer cells left behind after surgery. Radiation treatment may include multiple sessions over weeks or can be delivered in one session using an innovative technique called radiosurgery. For many cancers, radiation is the best treatment choice available, although it can have long-term side effects. Researchers at Weill Cornell are testing a treatment called brachytherapy for metastatic brain tumors in which radioactive seeds are implanted during surgery and give off radiation after surgery is completed.
Gene therapy, viral therapy, and immunotherapy are advanced technologies aimed at inoperable and recurrent brain tumors, holding out new hope for patients with these diagnoses. New clinical trials offer advanced options for patients facing malignant gliomas. Dr. Rohan Ramakrishna and Dr. Howard Fine have conducted innovative trials using these types of therapies.
Other options may include steroid treatment to reduce swelling, or anti-epileptic medication to control seizures. Physical or occupational therapy or other rehabilitation may help a patient regain lost motor skills and muscle strength; speech, physical, and occupational therapists may also be involved in the healthcare team.
Patients who have been treated for brain cancer will have ongoing follow-ups to manage any effects of the treatments and to monitor for any signs of regrowth of the tumor.
At the Weill Cornell Medicine Brain and Spine Center, located at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, our neurosurgeons are highly skilled in advanced procedures for treating brain tumors, with access to the very best facilities and specialists, to ensure the very best treatment available.
Reviewed by: Rohan Ramakrishna, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: December 2020