Treatments for brain and spinal cord tumours

If you have a brain or spinal cord tumour, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for a brain or spinal cord tumour, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the type of tumour
  • the grade of the tumour
  • the location of the tumour
  • the size of the tumour
  • your neurological (nervous system) function
  • your age and overall health
  • previous treatment

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Treating Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults. 2020:
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network . NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Central Nervous System Cancers Version 1.2023. 2023.
  • PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. Adult Central Nervous System Tumors Treatment (PDQ®) – Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2023:
  • Youngblood MW, Magill ST, Stupp R, Tsien C. Neoplasms of the central nervous system. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg S. eds. DeVita Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2023: Kindle version, [chapter 64],

Surgery for brain and spinal cord tumours

Surgery is the primary treatment for brain and spinal cord cancer. Surgery is used to potentially cure the cancer by completely removing the tumour, remove as much of the tumour as possible (debulk) before using other therapies, remove a sample of the tumour to confirm the diagnosis of cancer (a biopsy).

Radiation therapy for brain and spinal cord tumours

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. Radiation may be used for brain and spinal cord cancer as the primary treatment, when surgery cannot be done, to destroy cancer cells after surgery (adjuvant radiation therapy) or to treat tumours that could not be completely removed.

Chemotherapy for brain and spinal cord tumours

Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat brain cancer. Chemotherapy is not usually used with tumours that start in the spine (primary spinal cord tumours) but may be used for tumours that have spread to the spine from other parts of the body (metastatic spinal cord tumours).

Targeted therapy for brain and spinal cord tumours

Targeted therapy may be used to treat brain and spinal cord cancers by using drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on cancer cells or inside them. Targeted therapy may also be called molecular targeted therapy.

Active surveillance for brain and spinal cord tumours

Active surveillance may be a treatment option for some types of low-grade brain or spinal cord tumours. Active surveillance means the healthcare team watches the tumour closely. Treatment is given if there are any signs that the tumour is growing or there is an increased risk that the tumour will progress.

Corticosteroids and antiseizure medicines (anticonvulsants)

Corticosteroids and antiseizure medicines (anticonvulsants) are commonly used for people with brain and spinal cord tumours, but they do not treat the cancer. The drugs used may help lessen symptoms from the cancer or the treatment.

Follow-up after treatment for brain and spinal cord tumours

Brain and spinal cord cancer behaves differently in each person, and a standard follow-up schedule would not work for everyone. People with brain and spinal cord cancer should talk to their doctor about a follow-up plan that suits their individual situation. Follow-up care is often shared among the cancer specialists and your family doctor.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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