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What are my Options for Treating Brain Cancer?

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with brain cancer, you need to carefully research and evaluate your treatment options before making a decision. Regardless of whether your tumor is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), your choice of treatment is very important. Even a benign brain tumor can cause serious health problems by pressing on sensitive areas of your brain. Additionally, some benign tumors can become malignant over time. And because your brain is so complex and crucial to your body’s ability to function, treatment might have long-term side effects that affect your nervous system or other organs. That’s why knowing your treatment options and their side effects is so important.

Listen to Dr. Gary Larson talk about Brain Tumors

What are the advantages of proton therapy vs. standard X-ray radiation

Compared with X-ray radiation therapy, proton therapy results in less radiation exposure to normal brain tissue, eyes, and the optic nerve. As you can imagine, too much radiation to the brain can cause neurological dysfunction and even death.

Proton therapy is precise, which means that the radiation targets your brain tumor and does not continue beyond the tumor the way X-rays do. With proton therapy, less healthy brain tissue is irradiated than with X-ray intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)1,2 and there is less risk of side effects. 

Click image above to enlarge.

Proton therapy results in less radiation exposure to normal brain tissue, eyes, and the optic nerve than X-ray radiation therapy and, therefore, decreases the risk of side effects.

Which brain tumors are treatable with proton therapy?3

  • Low-grade glioma
  • Recurrent glioma
  • Meningioma
  • Pituitary adenoma
  • Craniopharyngioma

What can I expect from proton therapy treatment?

Proton therapy is a safe, noninvasive treatment and most of the patients do not experience pain during treatment. Depending on your brain cancer diagnosis, treatments are usually given five days a week for a period of 4–8 weeks. Each treatment session can range from 30–45 minutes, but the actual proton delivery is only about 60 seconds. We spend the rest of the time getting you in just the right position for this precise treatment. And in most cases, you can go about your normal routine before and after your session.

Treatment options at a glance

When treating brain tumors, a combination of treatments is often used.

  • Proton therapy – A noninvasive, safe, and painless cancer treatment that uses proton radiation to kill cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing.

    Considerations: Proton therapy delivers less radiation to your healthy brain tissues and surrounding organs than X-ray radiation. This decreased exposure may retain better overall brain function and reduce the likelihood of secondary cancer tumors in the future.1 

  • Standard X-ray radiation – A commonly used radiation treatment to kill cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing. Common options include: intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), Gamma Knife®, and CyberKnife®.

    Considerations: Radiating healthy brain tissue (and organs) can result in loss of memory, cognitive skills, and mobility. Tissues in your brain are very sensitive.

  • Surgery – Surgery to the brain requires the removal of part of your skull—a craniotomy. After your surgeon has removed your tumor and affected cells, your own bone will be used to cover the opening in your skull.

    Considerations: Depending on the size and location of the tumor, risks include infection, bleeding, and nerve damage. 

  • Chemotherapy – The use of drugs to kill or alter the cancer cells in the brain, often used in combination with other therapies.

    Considerations: Chemotherapy drugs have limited effectiveness in treating brain tumors. However, when used in combination with other treatments, their effectiveness increases.


  1. Vernimmen FJ, Harris JK, Wilson JA, Melvill R, Smit BJ, Slabbert JP. Stereotactic proton beam therapy of skull base meningiomas. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2001;49(1):99-105.
  2. Bolsi A, Fogliata A, Cozzi L. Radiotherapy of small intracranial tumours with different advanced techniques using photon and proton beams: a treatment planning study. Radiother Oncol. 2003;68(1):1-14.
  3. Data on file, ProCure; 2009.
  4. Silander H, Pellettieri L, Enblad P, et al. Fractionated, stereotactic proton beam treatment of cerebral arteriovenous malformations. Acta Neurol Scand. 2003;109(2):85-90.
  5. Vernimmen FJ. Talk presented at: Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group Meeting 47; May 19-24; Jacksonville, FL. 15 years of proton radiosurgery experience at the Ithemba Labs, long-term results for AVMs, meningiomas, and acoustic neuromas. OncoLink Web site: Published May 26, 2008. Accessed September 10, 2010.