Brain, Skull and Spinal Cord Tumors

Brain tumors in children can be quite different than tumors in adults, and respond differently to therapies. In fact, children with certain neuro-oncologic conditions tend to respond better to therapies. At times, children are eligible for clinical trials.

Whether using medications, radiation, or surgery to treat pediatric brain tumors, the physician team is highly sensitive to issues concerning the child's growth and development.

We treat benign and malignant tumors of the brain, skull base, spinal cord, and spine in adults and children. Brain tumors may be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Because they are a cancer affecting the brain, malignant brain tumors usually are life-threatening. Benign tumors in the brain also can be life-threatening, depending on the tumor's location. For example, a benign tumor may grow and increase pressure on an important blood vessel or a vital area of the brain.

A primary brain tumor originates in the brain. A secondary brain tumor (also called a "metastatic" brain tumor) is one which develops when cancer cells spread to the brain from a primary tumor in another part of the body, such as the breast, prostate, or lungs.


Brain tumors can produce symptoms that are similar to other neurologic disorders, so accurate diagnosis by a trained physician is critical. Symptoms can include seizure, severe headache often accompanied by double vision or nausea, gradual loss of movement or sensation in an arm or leg, loss of balance, loss of vision in one eye or both, loss of hearing, or gradual difficulty with speaking. Stroke or a dramatic change of behavior also may suggest a brain tumor.


Patients are usually seen first by either a neuro-oncologist or a neurosurgeon. Patients who have been referred to a particular physician should ask for an appointment with that person.

At your initial appointment, you should bring copies of any prior medical records - particularly those regarding your tumor - and, to the extent possible, copies of prior scans and any tumor specimens. Our staff is pleased to assist you in obtaining pathologic specimens and copies of scans. Physicians from multiple specialties can usually see you during the same visit.

After your first visit, we will provide you with a preliminary assessment of your condition, plans for further diagnostic evaluation (usually an MRI scan, unless you have had one done within the past month) and plan of treatment. When we have consolidated all the information, our physicians will review your case and provide you with treatment recommendations.

Treatment Options

We will consider a variety of state-of-the-art treatments for tumors of the brain and spinal cord. Physicians at Penn State Cancer Institute have a wealth of experience in both developing and using the most advanced medical, surgical, and radiation treatments in the world. These include novel (new) anti-tumor chemotherapeutic drugs designed to be well tolerated by patients, advanced intra-operative navigational technology that aids maximal removal of tumor tissue with minimal risk to function, and innovative radiosurgical and radiotherapeutic techniques.

Your Penn State neurosurgical team will discuss all treatment options with you. We are eager to provide our patients with the opportunity to participate in studies of these new therapies whenever appropriate.