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Neuro-Oncology Program

multiple images of a brain scan

Program Overview

At Penn Medicine, our neuro-oncology team provides comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for those with malignant tumors of the brain and spinal cord and other cancer-related neurological problems of the central and peripheral nervous system.

Our physicians are committed to research and are leaders in the development and testing of the latest treatment approaches. This ensures that the latest technological advances, including the most effective imaging methods, surgical techniques and management strategies are available to every person under our care.

All patient cases are reviewed by a multidisciplinary team of world-renowned experts. This team includes physicians and other health care providers from the fields of neurology, neurosurgery, radiation oncology, neuropathology, neuroradiology, rehabilitation medicine, neuro-psychiatry and social work. Penn's neuro-oncologists are closely associated with medical oncologists for the treatment of tumors that involve other organs of the body.

Conditions Treated by the Neuro-Oncology Program

Our Neuro-oncology Program treats all types of brain and spinal cord tumors, including:

  • Astrocytic Tumors
  • Oligodendroglial Tumors
  • Mixed Gliomas
  • Ependymal Tumors
  • Embryonal Cell Tumors: Medulloblastoma (Grade IV)
  • Pineal Parenchymal Tumors
  • Meningeal Tumors
  • Germ Cell Tumors
  • Tumors of the Sellar Region: Craniopharyngioma (Grade I) and Pituitary Tumor
  • Recurrent Brain Tumors

Neurologic Complications of Cancer 

Individuals 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 medication 

Paraneoplastic Syndrome 

Paraneoplastic neurologic syndromes are a diverse group of neurologic disorders that occur in those 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

Why Penn’s Neuro-Oncology Program is Different

Penn Neuro-oncology sets the standard of care for the treatment of malignant tumors of the brain and spinal cord throughout the region, offering:

  • A tumor board that meets weekly to map out the best treatment plan that is individually tailored for every patient. This assures that patients are offered the most up-to-date therapies appropriate for their cancer. The ultimate goal is to provide the best chance for a cure while preserving quality of life for every patient.
  • Specialists who are regionally and nationally recognized for their experience in treating the most complex cases of malignant brain and spinal cord tumors.
  • Technologically advanced diagnostic, therapeutic and investigational options.
    • Diagnostic tools not available elsewhere in the Philadelphia area, including:
    • High-resolution MRI (3T) using the most powerful magnet available in the country.
    • Advanced MRI techniques including magnetic resonance spectroscopy and perfusion.
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Treatments and Services Offered by the Neuro-Oncology Program

Penn Neurosurgery and the Abramson Cancer Center provide an integrative and comprehensive treatment approach for those whose cancer involves the brain and nervous system.

Treatments and services offered include:

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