Brain Tumors


A brain tumor is abnormal tissue that grows by uncontrolled cell division. Brain tumors are named after the cell type from which they grow. Tumors are either primary or metastatic. Primary tumors originate in the brain; metastatic tumors spread to the brain from a cancer in another part of the body, such as the lung, breast, liver, or skin.

Treatment options vary depending on the tumor type, size, and location; whether the tumor has spread; and the age and medical health of the person. Treatment options may be curative or focus on relieving symptoms. Of the more than 120 types of brain tumors, many can be successfully treated. New therapies are improving the life span and quality of life for many people.

Benign brain tumors grow slowly, have distinct boundaries, and rarely spread. Nevertheless, they can cause symptoms, side effects and complications. And they can be considered life-threatening if they are located in vital areas of the brain.

Malignant brain tumors can be primary or metastatic. They grow rapidly, have irregular boundaries, and spread to nearby areas within the brain. Malignant tumors that begin in the brain are also referred to as brain cancer. Metastatic tumors that have spread from a cancer in another part of the body are called brain metastases.

Your Team

The optimal care of patients with brain tumors requires a team approach. Your treatment at Precision Radiotherapy is led by an experienced, multidisciplinary team that includes neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, radiologists, medical oncologists, and pathologists. These specialists meet at a weekly Tumor Board to discuss individual cases of newly diagnosed patients and to recommend a treatment strategy.

Patients at Precision Radiotherapy may qualify for participation in clinical trials that explore promising new treatments.

Types of Brain Tumors

There are 120 types brain tumors. Here are a few of the most common:

Benign Brain Tumors

Malignant Brain Tumors

Metastatic brain tumors

Radiotherapy for Brain Tumors

Radiation therapy to the brain is often used as a primary or adjunctive therapy for brain tumors. Depending on the stage of disease and other factors, the doctor may suggest treatment with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of therapies.

Radiotherapy is a treatment that uses targeted, high-energy x-rays from a machine to kill cancer cells. Radiation works by damaging the DNA inside cells, making them unable to divide and grow. The goal of radiation therapy is to maximize the dose to abnormal cells and minimize exposure to normal cells. The benefits of radiation are not immediate but occur over time. Aggressive tumors, whose cells divide rapidly, typically respond more quickly to radiation. Please see our Guide to Radiotherapy.

External Radiation Therapy for Brain Tumors

External beam radiation is delivered from outside the body by a machine that aims high-energy x-rays at the tumor.

  • Stereotactic radiosurgery delivers a high dose of radiation during one to five sessions. Although it is called surgery, no incision is made.
  • Fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy delivers lower doses of radiation over many visits. Patients return daily over several weeks to receive the complete radiation dose.
  • Whole brain radiotherapy delivers the radiation dose to the entire brain. It is often used to treat multiple brain tumors and metastases.

Before radiation therapy, a stereotactic facemask is custom-made to fit the patient’s face exactly. It will be used during imaging and treatment to hold the head perfectly still. With the patient lying still on a table, strips of stretchy plastic are placed across the forehead, under the nose, and over the chin. Thermoplastic mesh is dipped into a water bath, making the mesh very flexible. The mesh is placed over the face and allowed to conform. Cold mitts help the mesh cool and harden. Creation of the mask takes about 30 minutes.

The mask is used to hold the patient absolutely still during imaging and treatment.

Side Effects

Radiotherapy can have side effects, and these vary from person to person.

  • Swelling / headaches
  • Radiation necrosis, dying tumor tissue that can cause swelling in surrounding normal tissue

Internal Radiation Therapy for Brain Tumors

Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) is delivered from inside the body. After the patient undergoes a craniotomy to remove the tumor, the neurosurgeon places radioactive material directly into the tumor cavity. The radioactive material is sealed in catheters, seeds, or balloons. The radiation dose is delivered to the first few millimeters of tissue that surrounded the tumor cavity where malignant cells may still remain. Patients have no risk of radiation injury to other parts of their own body or to others around them because the radiation dose is precisely delivered and short-lived.

Learn More

Mayfield Brain & Spine (Overview of Brain Tumors)

American Brain Tumor Association (

National Brain Tumor Society (

National Cancer Institute (

Radiotherapy for breast cancer

Of the more than 120 types of brain tumors, many can be successfully treated.


Billi's story

Billi's story: Meningioma brain tumor