The brain is the center of thought, memory, emotion, speech, sensation and motor function. The spinal cord and special nerves in the head called cranial nerves carry and receive messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

  • The Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States estimates that more than 612,000 persons are living with a diagnosis of primary brain and central nervous system tumors in the United States.
  • There are two general types of brain tumors:
    • Primary - a tumor that starts in the brain. Primary brain tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Primary tumors in the brain or spinal cord rarely spread to distant organs.
    • Metastatic - a tumor caused by cancer elsewhere in the body that spreads to the brain. Metastatic brain tumors are always cancerous. Brain tumors cause damage because, as they grow, they can interfere with surrounding cells that serve vital roles in our everyday life.

For information about radiation treatment for metastatic brain tumors visit Brain Metastasis.

Learn more about Brain Tumors:


If doctors determine that you have a brain tumor, the treatment options and prognosis are based on the many factors, including tumor type, location and size of the tumor, how aggressive it appears (grade), as well as your age and health. Depending upon these and other factors, surgery, radiation therapy and medical therapy are possible treatment options.

Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the careful use of high-energy X-rays to safely and effectively treat brain tumors. Radiation works noninvasively within tumor cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them. Healthy cells near the tumor may be affected by radiation, but they are able to repair themselves in a way tumor cells cannot. Radiation therapy can be used after surgery, or in some cases when surgery isn't safely possible. Ask your radiation oncologist more about whether radiation will be helpful for your treatment.

For many brain tumors, surgery is a curative part of treatment. A neurosurgeon will usually perform one surgical biopsy to determine what kind of tumor you have. Often, that is the definitive surgery. Surgery can be done to maximize tumor removal while minimizing nerve injury or effects on your normal functioning. Depending upon what tumor you have, surgery may be the only local treatment needed. However, often radiation is used after surgery to lessen the chances of recurrence or further tumor growth. Ask your surgeon more about the extent of surgery best for you.

Medical Therapy
Sometimes, a medication may be helpful instead of radiation or to make radiation work better. Chemotherapy has the ability to destroy cancer cells by different methods. Depending upon the kind of drug best suited for your kind of brain tumor, chemotherapy may be given as a pill daily or by an intravenous (IV) line on a set schedule. For more details about chemotherapy or newer medications, ask your medical oncologist what may be best for you.

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External beam radiation therapy involves a series of out-patient treatments with a machine called a linear accelerator, or linac. The radiation beam is painless and treatment lasts only a few minutes. Treatments are given daily, Monday to Friday, usually over three to seven weeks.

Before beginning treatment, you will be scheduled for a planning session to map out the area your radiation oncologist wishes to treat. This procedure is called a simulation. Simulation involves lying on a table, usually with a form-fitting mask to make sure treatment can be delivered the same way each treatment. A CT scan is performed with that mask, and then your doctor will design individualized treatment, often with information from other CT scans and MRIs you have had. Marks are made on the mask, not your skin, to help the radiation therapist precisely position you for daily treatment.

Different techniques can be used to give radiation for brain tumors. Three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3-D CRT) combines multiple radiation treatment fields to deliver precise doses of radiation to the brain. Tailoring each of the radiation beams to the patient's tumor allows coverage of the diseased cells while keeping radiation away from nearby organs, such as the eyes.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a form of 3-D CRT that further modifies the intensity of the radiation within each of the radiation beams. Stereotactic radiotherapy can be used in some tumors to be even more precise.

Our patients have access to Alaska's only state-of-the-art, frameless stereotactic radiosurgery system, The Alaska CyberKnife Center at Providence Cancer Center.

Ask your radiation oncologist about which technique is best for treating your tumor.

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The CyberKnife System offers non-invasive radiation therapy treatments for all types of brain tumors and other conditions, such as trigeminal neuralgia and arterial venous malformations (AVMs). With the CyberKnife System, we can treat brain tumors with pinpoint accuracy in just one to five sessions. Unlike conventional radiation therapy, the CyberKnife System leverages advanced robotics to precisely target tumors with high doses of radiation, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and minimizing side effects. The physicians of Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center have access to the Alaska CyberKnife Center at Providence Cancer Center in Anchorage. Ask your physician if the CyberKnife System is right for you.

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Internal Radiation Therapy 

Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, works by placing radioactive sources in, or just next to, a tumor. During brachytherapy, a tube or balloon called a catheter may be inserted into the brain. The radiation will then be carried to the tumor using this catheter. The radioactive source will then be left in place from several hours to several days to kill the tumor cells. In some cases, the radiation is permanently placed directly into the tumor or the area where the tumor was before surgery. This is less commonly used for treatment than external beam radiation therapy.

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  • Side effects are different for each patient. Medications may be prescribed to make you as comfortable as possible.
  • If at any time during your treatment you feel discomfort, tell us. We can prescribe medicine to help you feel better.

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  • Get plenty of rest during treatment, and don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders. Ask if you are unsure about anything. There are no stupid questions.
  • Tell your doctor about any medications or vitamins you are taking, to make sure they are safe to use during radiation therapy.
  • Eat a balanced diet. If food tastes funny or if you're having trouble eating, tell your doctor, nurse or dietician. They might be able to help you change the way you eat.
  • Treat the skin exposed to radiation with special care. Stay out of the sun, avoid hot or cold packs, only use lotions and ointments after checking with your doctor or nurse, and clean the area with warm water and mild shampoo or baby shampoo.
  • Battling cancer is tough. Seek out help from support groups and friends.

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American Brain Tumor Association


Brain Tumor Foundation


National Brain Tumor Society


Also see Helpful Links

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Download a helpful brochure from www.rtanswers.org

*Content provided by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, www.rtanswers.org, and the American Cancer Society.

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