Seton’s brain tumor treatment program is the only comprehensive neuro-oncology program in Central Texas.
Our team has specialized expertise in treating people with cancer with both primary and metastatic brain tumors. Primary brain tumors develop directly in the brain, while metastatic brain tumors start elsewhere in the body and spread to the brain. We also treat spinal tumors as well as those people with tumors in the pituitary gland. With our comprehensive program and state-of-the-art technology such as CyberKnife and Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) available on site, recovery can start with peace of mind.
Our expert neurosurgeons and specialized nursing staff have the most operating experience and post-surgical care expertise in the region. They have completed advanced and subspecialized training in the treatment of tumors of the brain and spine. They also have the most advanced surgical suites specifically designed and built for those people being treated for brain or spine tumors.
Wellness & Prevention
Because it’s not fully understood what causes brain tumors, there isn’t a known way to prevent them from developing completely. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are the most important aspects of brain wellness and tumor prevention, and can also help lower the risk that the tumor could spread to other parts of the body.
What Is a Brain Tumor?
The tumors that are found in the brain can be divided into two types: metastatic tumors are tumors that spread from cancer elsewhere in the body to the brain, and primary tumors are those that arise from cells that reside in the brain and spine. Both types can have similar symptoms, but they are treated differently.
There are many different types of tumors that can affect the brain and nervous system. Brain tumors can be either benign (slow growing or non-cancerous) or malignant (fast growing or cancerous). However, because of a tumor’s location in the brain, even a benign brain tumor requires prompt evaluation.
The most common types of brain tumors include:
- Lymphoma – This cancer targets the lymphatic system, which fights diseases that arise in the body and includes the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland and bone marrow. The main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Sarcoma – This refers to a group of cancers that occur in bones, fat, muscle and other connective tissues in the body.
- Meningiomas – These tumors are often benign and occur in the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
- Glioblastoma – A type of tumor that grows rapidly, putting pressure on other parts of the brain. These tumors can cause dizziness, headaches and blurred vision.
- Oligodendrogliomas – This slow-growing tumor typically occurs in young adults and often causes seizures.
- Ependymomas – These benign tumors are more common in children than adults and can cause severe headaches, vomiting and vision loss.
- Astrocytomas – Tumors of this type also tend to not spread to other parts of the body and can range from benign to malignant.
- Acoustic neuromas – Also called vestibular schwannomas, these tumors are typically benign and occur on a nerve in the brain close to the ears. These tumors can affect balance and produce a ringing in the ears.
- Pituitary adenoma – This is a cancer of the pituitary gland, located between the brain and nasal passages. It can cause headaches, hormonal dysfunction and nerve damage.
When visiting a specialist for your brain tumor treatment, please make sure the physician has access to the results of any imaging tests (like an MRI or CT, for example) in the form of a CD, DVD, film or online, and access to your laboratory test results as well.
There are several different tests that can be performed to diagnose a brain tumor:
- The neurological exam is used to assess symptoms. This can include questions about current health and medical history, but also checks reflexes, vision and ability to remember or concentrate.
- Cerebral angiograms (X-rays of the blood vessels in the brain) can be taken. With the use of an injected contrast dye, your doctor can see the pattern of veins and arteries in your brain and around the various tumors.
- A biopsy is a test that is performed through a surgical intervention. During this test, the neurosurgeon removes a small portion of the abnormal tissue so it can be checked under a microscope. This shows if a tumor is cancerous or not, or if a cancerous tumor has spread to healthy tissue.
- Blood and urine tests may be used to check hormone levels. An imbalance could indicate a tumor in the pituitary gland, which sits at the base of the skull under the brain.
- CT scans take a picture of the brain by scanning your brain from many different angles. A CT scan can be especially helpful for finding tumors that develop on or near the bone and evaluate if a brain tumor has caused any bleeding.
- A lumbar puncture is a test that lets your doctor study the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) that is produced continuously by the nervous system and circulates throughout the brain and spine. Studying the characteristics of CSF can lead to possible detection of tumor cells circulating in the nervous system. In some cases, certain tumor cells circulate within the CSF and can be detected under the microscope.
- An MRI is one of the best ways to diagnose a brain tumor. The use of magnetic fields instead of X-rays gives a more detailed image of the brain and tumors within the brain. A functional MRI (fMRI) is an MRI that’s taken while the individual is asked to perform a task, such as speaking aloud or tapping the fingers. This helps identify if a tumor is in an area that’s affecting an important brain function, like speech, memory or movement.
- An MRS (MRI Spectroscopy) works in a similar way as an MRI, but measures the amount of certain molecules in the brain rather than just mapping images. With this diagnostic tool, the physicians can try to differentiate brain tumors from each other based on differences in their molecular fingerprint.
- PET scans use an injection of radioactive glucose to see if there are changes in cells as they grow.
There are many options for brain tumor treatment. The choice of treatment is based on many different factors, including the size and location of the tumor and especially the type of tumor.
Treatment of a complicated disease such as a brain tumor requires a complex treatment that is made possible only through the collaboration of a multidisciplinary care team:
- Neurosurgeon: A surgeon who is trained to treat various disorders of the nervous system. When seeking a neurosurgeon, look for one who subspecializes in the treatment of the specific brain tumor that you or your loved one has.
- Neuro-oncologist: Can be a medical oncologist or a neurologist who subspecializes in the medical treatment of brain tumors. Your neuro-oncologist will guide the chemotherapy treatment of your particular tumor after the diagnosis has been made.
- Radiation Oncologist: A specialist trained in radiation treatment of people who have received the diagnosis of tumor.
- Endocrinologist: These are specialists in diagnosis and treatment of the diseases of the endocrine system, a complex system of organs that secretes and controls the body’s hormones. Endocrinologists are involved in the care of people with brain tumors that affect the endocrine organs, such as the pituitary gland.
- Other specialists that you may see during your journey or just hear about their involvement in your care include neuro-radiologists, neuro-pathologists, neuropsychologists, rehabilitation specialists, speech therapists, physical and occupational therapists, social workers and more.
Treatments are often combined for the best results.
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common way to treat a brain tumor, either by removing all or part of the tumor, or just taking a small sample of the tumor to help make the correct diagnosis. For certain tumors, surgery is the only treatment option.
During surgery, your doctor can physically remove all or most of the tumor, depending on its size and location. Depending on the location of the tumor, the neurosurgeons can use different techniques that make it possible to remove the majority of the tumor and limit injury to the important surrounding areas of the brain such as speech and motor areas. One such technique is called Awake Craniotomy, during which the individual is kept awake and the surgeon, a speech specialist and the operating room team communicate with the individual and test the speech and other functions of the brain while the surgeon removes the brain tumor. If cancer is present, additional treatment may be needed.
Surgery for brain tumors can accomplish a few different goals:
- Make the correct diagnosis, since by removing the tumor, the tissue can be evaluated under the microscope.
- Reduce the size of the tumor. The surgery can help treat the tumor completely, or make the other treatment options, such as chemotherapy and radiation, easier by reducing the size of the tumor.
- Improve the symptoms by releasing the pressure that the tumor causes in the brain.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses special drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. These drugs are given by mouth or by injection. Although used most often for cancerous tumors, slower growing tumors or benign tumors are also sometimes treated with chemo. Some treatment protocols for certain type of tumors are standardized, but some are not. Your physician may suggest you enroll in a clinical trial after he or she has exhausted all standard treatment protocols.
- Radiation Therapy: In radiation therapy, high-energy radiation is used to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be scheduled on its own, or may be done to shrink a tumor enough that surgery can be safely performed. More often though, the radiation therapy is done after the surgery has been performed, to reduce the chances of tumor recurrence.
- Other Treatments:
- LITT (Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy) refers to the treatment of brain tumors with laser technology, using light energy to destroy the tumor. The location of the tumor and its response to other treatment options determine which brain tumors can be considered for laser ablation. During this treatment, the neurosurgeon will introduce a laser probe into the tumor. As the laser is delivered, the temperature will rise and destroy the unwanted tissue only. Depending on the size, location, shape and type of the tumor, your specialized physician will be able to determine if your tumor can be treated with this technology.
- Optune™ formerly known as Novocure TTF100, is a new and unique form of treatment for brain tumors. The treatment uses alternating electrical fields that are delivered through electrode arrays. These arrays are placed on the individual’s head, and the electrical fields kill the dividing cells of the brain tumor. The FDA has approved this approach for treatment of certain tumors.
Finally, in some cases, your doctor may feel that waiting and performing active surveillance with serial MRIs is the best approach for the time being. Your condition is closely monitored until symptoms appear or change, at which time a more informed decision about treatment can be made.
Ensuring the right recovery support after brain tumor treatment is an important part of your return to full health. The aftercare needed will depend on many aspects of your condition, including the type of treatment performed and your general health. Brain tumor surgery will likely require a hospital stay, while a course of chemotherapy treatment could take several weeks or months. Surgery may also mean needing follow-up treatments of radiation or chemotherapy.
If your brain tumor has caused damage to the affected area of the brain, rehabilitation may be needed. In all cases, continued monitoring and regular appointments with your doctor are necessary to make sure you’re healing properly, and that the tumor does not show signs of returning.