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Diagnosis and Treatment of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Experts at the University of Chicago Brain Tumor Center offer the full range of diagnostic and treatment options for patients with primary and metastatic tumors of the central nervous system (CNS). Our physician team has extensive experience in the management of common and rare brain tumors, such as:

Glioma, including:

  • Astrocytoma
    • Glioblastoma (GBM)
    • Anaplastic astrocytoma
    • Low grade (fibrillary) astrocytoma
    • Pilocytic astrocytoma
  • Oligodendroglioma and anaplastic oligodendroglioma
    • Oligoastrocytoma


Hemangioblastoma, with specialized expertise in von Hippel-Lindau disease


Primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs)

  • Atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT)
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Supratentorial PNETs

Pituitary adenoma






An accurate diagnosis is the first step in comprehensive CNS tumor care. To identify and confirm the presence of a brain tumor, doctors start with a health assessment and physical examination. At the Brain Tumor Center, we specialize in the use of sophisticated imaging technology and minimally invasive techniques to pinpoint the location and shape of brain tumors. Demonstrating the highest level of diagnostic skill, our experts can safely biopsy tumors in the most difficult to reach, high-risk locations in the brain stem and spinal cord. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, our physician team discusses each patient's case and collaborates on a customized treatment plan.


With the latest medical advances, patients have a wide range of options for brain tumor treatment, including:


Today, innovative, high-precision surgical techniques and tools enable University of Chicago neurosurgeons to operate on deep brain tumors that were once considered inoperable. Some of these newer techniques and tools include:

  • Innovative minimally invasive neurosurgery, which offers shorter recovery times and fewer complications than traditional surgery. For example, surgeons may treat tumors using endoscopic techniques, which involve operating through a small incision using thin tubes to protect and retract delicate tissues yet provide an unimpeded avenue to tumors
  • Image-guided, minimally invasive laser ablation for superficial and deep-seated tumors, which enables destruction of the tumor while preserving the surrounding brain tissue
  • Computerized neuro-navigation systems, which allow greater accuracy during procedures to remove abnormal tissues, and greater preservation of healthy tissues
  • Skull-base surgical techniques, which enable neurosurgeons to operate on tumors located near the base of the skull without destroying vital brain and brain-stem functions
  • Both minimally invasive and image and electrophysiologically guided spinal neurosurgery for removing tumors of the spine and spinal cord
  • The full range of conventional and complex open skull and spine surgeries to treat tumors, brain and spinal cord swelling, seizures, and other conditions

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Radiation therapy

Even when surgery appears to have removed a malignant tumor, radiation therapy is often recommended to ensure destruction of any cancer cells that might remain. For benign tumors, radiation therapy may be used to slow or halt tumor growth, or to treat a recurring tumor.

At the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, adults and children with brain tumors have access to the most sophisticated radiation treatment technologies. This includes innovative image-guided radiation treatment devices. This image-guided radiotherapy technology allows doctors to choose from several different types of radiation treatment techniques. Some of the advanced radiation options available include:

  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), which utilizes highly accurate positioning systems and 3D imaging to map the locations of the tumor and surrounding anatomy with high precision. Without any incision, doctors can accurately target a high-dose radiation beam directly on the tumor that can cause it to shrink or even disappear. Even very small lesions can be treated with SRS, using advanced technology that is available at the medical center.
  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), a new, highly precise form of three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy, which uses computers and multiple beams to "shape" radiation to the treatment area. IMRT allows doctors to "turn up" the radiation dose on tumor areas while excluding sensitive regions, such as the brain stem and spinal cord.
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). The University of Chicago is one of the first hospitals in the country to provide IGRT. In IGRT, advanced imaging and treatment technology is combined to more precisely identify a tumor’s position in order to provide the most accurate delivery of radiation dose to the tumor.

Our multi-modal system can be used to treat benign and malignant brain tumors, as well as other neurological conditions, such as arteriovenous malformations (AVM) and trigeminal neuralgia.

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Systemic therapy

Our brain tumor experts may recommend systemic therapy as an effective cancer treatment strategy. With systemic therapies, medication is delivered via bloodstream to destroy and prevent the growth, spread or recurrence of cancer cells throughout the body. Individualized brain tumor treatment plans may include some form of systemic therapy, such as:

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Tumor treating fields (TTF or TTFields)

The University of Chicago Brain Tumor Center is among the first to offer tumor treating fields, an innovative technique using alternating electrical fields for the treatment of glioblastoma (GBM). Through electrodes placed directly on the scalp, the TTF device delivers low-intensity electromagnetic waves to interrupt the proliferation of cancerous cells in the brain. Also referred to as alternating electric field therapy, TTF may only be prescribed and administered by certified experts.

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