The Penn Brain Tumor Center provides an integrative and comprehensive treatment approach for those with benign (non-cancerous), malignant (cancerous) or metastatic brain tumors. Each patient case is reviewed each week by the center's tumor board, a multidisciplinary team of world-renowned specialists from the fields of neurology, neurosurgery, radiation oncology, neuropathology, neuroradiology, rehabilitation medicine, neuro-psychiatry and social work. Patients are involved in all decisions for care.
Neurosurgery for Brain Tumors
Surgery is the treatment of choice for brain tumors that can be removed without causing major neurological problems. The goals of neurosurgery are to:
- Remove as much of the tumor as possible
- Relieve pressure on the brain from the tumor
- Provide tissue to establish a precise diagnosis
- Determine the extent of the tumor
- Provide access for other treatments, such as radiation implants
Awake Craniotomy and Brain Mapping: This is an advanced surgical treatment to remove brain tumors that allows for intraoperative speech and motor mapping during the procedure. Penn uses advanced imaging tools available such as fiber-guided tractography and individualized brain maps to locate and safely remove brain tumors. The brain is mapped before and during the surgery. Mapping helps neurosurgeons pinpoint areas of the brain that control different behaviors. It requires a grid of sensors or electrodes positioned only on the surface of the brain to detect electrical signals. The cortical and deep areas of the brain are stimulated while a sophisticated neuromonitoring team collects real-time data, guiding the surgeon.
For patients with difficult brain tumors in areas near speech or motor centers in the brain, awake craniotomy is the “gold standard” and offers superior outcomes by functional preservation.
Laser Instititial Thermal Coagulation Therapy (LITT): This is a minimally invasive cytoreductive treatment. LITT is performed by implanting a laser catheter into the tumor and inducing hyperthermia to kill tumor cells. The extent of thermal damage is controlled through use of real-time MR-thermography guidance. LITT can be considered as an alternative type of surgery for difficult to access brain tumors and also for tumors in patients who are deemed high risk for more traditional surgery. LITT may also help patients who do not respond to stereotactic radiosurgery.
Radiation Therapy and Radiosurgery for Brain Tumors
CyberKnife: CyberKnife provides a non-invasive option for brain cancer patients who are unable to undergo surgery because of the location of the tumor or other factors. CyberKnife is a form of non-invasive stereotactic radiosurgery that delivers precise radiation to the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding sensitive brain tissue. Read more about CyberKnife at Penn.
Gamma Knife: A non-invasive alternative to surgery using radiation for treating cancerous and non-cancerous brain tumors. This treatment uses beams of highly-focused gamma rays to treat small to medium size lesions in the brain. Read more about Gamma Knife at Penn.
Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT): This is a type of radiation therapy that uses X-rays or other high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells and their ability to multiply. IMRT allows doctors to control the intensity of the radiation beams directed at different parts of the tumor. Read more about IMRT at Penn.
Proton Therapy: A highly targeted form of radiation therapy that delivers precise doses of radiation to a tumor while minimizing exposure to the surrounding normal tissues. Penn Medicine's Roberts Proton Therapy Center is one of only a few such centers in the U.S. and treats a variety of cancers — including brain and skull based tumors. It is the largest proton therapy center in the United States. Read more about Proton Therapy at Penn.
Chemotherapy for Brain Tumors
Chemotherapy may be used in combination with other types of treatment such as surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may be taken orally with a pill or intravenously through the vein to eliminate cancer cells. Read more about Chemotherapy at Penn.
Brain Tumor Research Leads to Advanced Treatment
Penn Medicine is the Philadelphia region's only participant and one out of only fourteen programs in the nation in the National Cancer Institute-funded Adult Brain Tumor Consortium, allowing access to novel clinical trials and therapies not offered anywhere else in the region.
Our patients have access to:
- Clinical trials utilizing novel chemotherapies
- Anti-tumor vaccines and other immunotherapies
- Biologic response modifiers and genetic-based therapies
Penn is developing a way to tag tumors with a fluorescent dye, which makes cancerous tissue literally glow when viewed through a specialized operating microscope. Early studies have shown that fluorescence-guidance leads to more complete resections of brain tumors. The Center for Precision Surgery at the Abramson Cancer Center, including Penn's neurosurgeons, has the world’s largest experience with this innovative technology.
Immunotherapy Research for Brain Tumors
In 2016, Penn was one of six top medical institutions chosen to form the new Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. The Parker Institute is an unprecedented collaboration between the country’s leading immunologists and cancer centers, Penn among them. The collaboration includes six centers, over 40 labs, and over 300 of the nation’s top researchers, all working together to cure cancer. A major focus is therapy of glioblastoma. Studies include:
- Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cell Therapy (CAR T Therapy): This treatment has been pioneered at PENN to control previously incurable leukemias and is now being evaluated for glioblastoma in a first-in-man, phase I study, that shows promising results.
- Vaccine therapy: Other vaccines targeting tumor antigens are being evaluated at Penn.
- Checkpoint Inhibitors: This new class of immunotherapy agents removes barriers used by the tumor cells to evade the immune system. Many of these drugs are approved by the FDA for melanoma and lung cancer, and are now in trial for glioblastoma.
Oncolytic Virus Therapy
Penn offers viral therapy for recurrent glioblastoma, given in combination with a cytotoxic drug (Tocagen trial).
Learn more about Penn's Neurosurgery Research and Clinical Trials program.