Neurology

Neuro-oncology

Penn neuro-oncologists provide evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for patients with benign and malignant brain and spinal cord tumors of the central nervous system (CNS). Our team includes recognized leaders in the treatment of rare and complex neurologic cancers and all neurologic complications associated with cancer.

Types of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

The Penn neuro-oncology team treats all types of brain and spinal cord tumors including:

  • Gliomas
    • Astrocytoma
    • Glioblastoma
    • Oligodendroglioma
    • Ependymoma
  • Meningioma
  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma

Neurologic Complications of Cancer

Patients with cancer may have neurological complications including:

  • Brain, spinal cord or nerve problems caused by metabolic and nutritional disorders
  • Infections of the brain or the tissue covering the brain (meninges) in patients with cancer
  • Long-term side effects of cancer treatment
  • Metastasis to brain, spinal cord, spinal fluid or nerves
  • Stroke caused by blood disorders such as increased tendency to form blood clots or to hemorrhage
  • Side effects of treatment such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or other medications

Paraneoplastic Syndrome

Paraneoplastic neurologic syndromes are a diverse group of neurologic disorders that occur in patients with cancer and can affect any part of the nervous system.

Paraneoplastic syndromes often develop specific serum or spinal fluid antibodies. Detection of these antibodies indicates the patient's symptoms may be due to a tumor and may be treatable with immunosuppressive drugs as well as therapy directed at the primary tumor. Penn neuro-oncologists are known as leaders in the treatment of these rare conditions that include:

  • Lambert-Eaton syndrome
  • Limbic encephalitis
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • NMDA receptor encephalitis
  • Paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration
  • Stiff-person syndrome

Diagnosing Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Ultimately, a definitive diagnosis of a brain or spinal cord tumor is done through a biopsy of tumor tissue. Depending upon whether or not a patient is a candidate, neuro-surgeons may perform surgery to take out as much of the tumor as can be safely removed.

To find the location of tumors, the most advanced diagnostic imaging techniques are utilized, including:

  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • High resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)

Treating Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

The Penn Neuro-oncology Program uses a multidisciplinary approach to care working collaboratively with other subspecialties within Penn Neurology and other disciplines across Penn Medicine. Specialists come together to discuss patient cases in meetings called tumor boards. Our neuro-oncology tumor board meets once a week. The board works together to create treatment plans that meet the unique needs of each patient.

We work with subspecialists from:

Our neurologists implement evidence-based treatments for rare and complicated tumors and related conditions. Treatment options offered include:

  • Clinical trials involving investigational drugs, devices, and biological therapies including vaccines and antiangiogenic therapies
  • Conventional radiation therapy
  • Gamma Knife® (Radiosurgery) — a powerful, non-invasive, blade-free surgery used to shrink or even destroy tumor tissue
  • Surgery
  • Standard chemotherapy

Support Services for People with Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

A brain or spinal cord tumor diagnosis can be frightening and overwhelming for patients, families and caregivers. At Penn, we offer support services to help you and your family cope through this difficult time.

At-home services

Our at-home services focus on meeting the health needs of homebound cancer patients and their families. These services enable cancer patients to maintain personal dignity and independence while receiving a variety of clinical and support services. This personalized approach actively encourages family involvement in a patient's case. Our nurses, social workers, dietitians, home health aides and specially trained volunteers are available to assist you at home. The home care staff works under the direction of your personal doctor who remains in charge of your medical care.

Counseling

The Neuro-oncology Program has a full-time social worker dedicated to providing support and assistance to you and your family. We provide counseling and are available to meet with you privately or in family sessions. Whenever possible, these sessions can be scheduled to coincide with doctor visits.

Support groups

The Abramson Cancer Center has one of the largest and longest-running brain tumor support groups in the region. Patients and families join once a month for two hours to discuss common issues and share experiences. It is a wonderful opportunity to gain support and knowledge while meeting others facing similar situations and feelings. The group also conducts open meetings for general support and provides opportunities for patient and family networking.

Neuro-oncology Research

Clinicians and scientists at the University of Pennsylvania are involved in a large variety of research endeavors aimed at understanding the basic biology of glial tumors. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) at The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Cancer Society, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the Brain Tumor Society are among several organizations that have supported this important research.

Current research endeavors include:

  • Gene imaging
  • Gene transfer
  • Signal transduction
  • Tumor hypoxia