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Our Brain Cancer Treatment Approaches

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UPMC offers expert treatment in the field of brain oncology, for patients with malignant (cancerous) tumors in the brain or skull base. Our neurosurgeons have the depth and breadth of expertise required to treat most manifestations of brain cancer, including those once considered “inoperable.”

A brain tumor can be classified into two main types, malignant and benign (non-cancerous). Malignant brain tumors are more difficult to treat. This type of tumor grows more rapidly, usually destroying surrounding brain tissue.

Malignant brain tumors can be further classified as primary or secondary tumors. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Primary brain tumors are named from the cells in which they originate.

Secondary brain tumors, or brain metastases, originate from cancer cells in another part of the body that have spread to the brain, from such regions as the lungs or breasts. They may appear anywhere in the brain, but most commonly at the junction of gray matter and white matter. 

Brain Conditions Treated

Experts at UPMC regularly treat the following conditions that are or may be cancerous:

Treatment Options

Treatments vary depending on the type and location of the tumor and ongoing cancer treatment.

The three standard treatments are:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Your physician may recommend one or a combination of these treatments.


When possible, our neurosurgeons employ minimally invasive surgical techniques that offer patients minimal scarring, fewer side effects and complications, and faster recovery.

The Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA) is used to reach tumors at the base of the skull and upper spine, and Neuroendoport® Surgery can reach tumors within the substance of the brain (the parenchyma) or within the fluid spaces of the brain (the ventricles).

In addition, UPMC is the nation’s leading provider of Gamma Knife® procedures. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a painless procedure that uses hundreds of highly focused radiation beams to target tumors and lesions within the brain, with no surgical incision required.

Radiation therapy

Radiation is commonly used to treat brain tumors, since surgery isn't always an option. Radiation therapy may be delivered externally by directing radiation at the tumor from an outside source, or internally by placing radioactive material directly in the body near the cancer. 


Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, chemotherapy may be taken by mouth, as an injection, or placed directly into the brain tumor site.


Neurosurgery at UPMC: A powerful team approach
Dr. Robert M. Friedlander discusses the power of a team approach to treating neurosurgical patients at UPMC.