Brain & Spine Cancer

Proton Therapy for Brain Cancer Treatment

With such a broad spectrum of tumor types that occur in the brain & spine, there can be several appropriate treatment options. Depending on the specific classification and aggressiveness of the tumor, these can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of modalities.

Radiation therapy is used to destroy cancer cells and prevent their regrowth. With brain cancer treatment, it is especially important to treat the tumor and kill the cancer cells while protecting the healthy surrounding tissue. The precision of proton therapy makes it an excellent tool physicians can use to achieve that balance.

Nashville, TN

Telehealth now available. Speak to a physician from the safety of your own home. For information or to schedule a consultation, contact us to speak with a Cancer Care Expert.

Knoxville, TN

Telehealth now available. Speak to a physician from the safety of your own home. For information or to schedule a consultation, contact us to speak with a Cancer Care Expert.

Brain & Spine Cancer Overview

There are many types of brain tumors, some are malignant (cancerous) while others are benign (not cancerous). Primary malignant brain tumors, those which begin in the brain, are relatively rare compared with more common metastatic brain tumors, which have migrated to the brain from a tumor elsewhere in the body.


Symptoms of brain cancer can vary based on a tumor’s location or size. If one or more of these symptoms persistently occur, be sure to see your physician. In general, symptoms include:

  • Unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • New pattern of headaches
  • Headaches that become more frequent/severe
  • Vision problems, including double vision, loss of peripheral vision or blurred vision
  • Loss of sensation or movement in a limb over time
  • Difficulties with speech
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures, particularly in one who does not have a history of seizures
  • Hearing issues
  • Speech problems


Physicians recommend several tests and procedures for brain cancer diagnoses. Approximately 23,800 adults and 4,830 children are diagnosed with cancerous tumors of the brain and spinal cord each year, with brain tumors making up the majority of that number. They may recommend a neurological exam, which usually includes checking vision, hearing, reflexes, coordination and balance. Experiencing difficulty in one or more of these areas could be a sign of a brain tumor.

A doctor may recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), commonly used in brain tumor diagnosis, or computerized tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET). A biopsy may also be completed for diagnosis.


Exposing healthy brain tissue to too much radiation can cause significant complications, including neurological dysfunction and loss of cognitive skills. Because brain tumors are surrounded by important structures which if damaged could result in long-term side effects, proton therapy can be a great option for many patients.
Proton therapy increases the precision of treatment. Pencil beam scanning capabilities and image-based technology allow for high doses of protons to be administered to the tumor with reduced damage to the surrounding tissues, for example the optic nerve. Proton therapy is a safe and non-invasive treatment. Patients will experience fewer side effects and are typically able to continue normal activities before and after treatment.
With proton therapy, much of the healthy tissue and critical organs surrounding the tumor is spared from receiving additional radiation. Some of the normal brain tissue receives 50% less radiation than with conventional radiation/X-rays/IMRT. In the chart below, the grey/white areas indicate no radiation exposure, while the colored areas indicate radiation exposure.

Brain tumors most appropriate for proton therapy:

  • Gilomas (astrocytomas)
  • Oligodendrogliomas
  • Ependymomas
  • Medulloblastomas
  • Pineoblastomas
  • Supratenorial PNET
  • Germ cell tumors
  • Pituitary gland tumors
  • Almost all pediatric brain tumors

Clinical Benefits of Proton Therapy for Brain & Spine Cancer Treatment

31% increase in disease control for aggressive tumors at base of skull (chordomas) at 5 years.1

50% less likely to have secondary brain tumor from treatment.2

55% reduction in average dose to the hippocampi (memory function) in treatment of meningioma.3

Now Available–Portable Treatment for Glioblastoma

Optune®, an FDA-approved brain cancer treatment for newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma (GBM), is now available at Provision CARES Proton Therapy – Knoxville. Glioblastomas account for about 15% of all primary brain tumors. This portable and wearable device is the first FDA-approved therapy in more than a decade for newly diagnosed GBM. Optune is approved for the treatment of adult patients (22 years of age or older) with GBM. For newly diagnosed patients, Optune is used with the chemotherapy temozolomide (TMZ) after surgery and radiation with TMZ. For recurrent patients, it can be used alone when surgery and radiation treatment options have been exhausted. In a clinical trial, adding Optune to TMZ was proven to delay GBM tumor growth and extend survival in newly diagnosed patients compared with TMZ alone.

For more information about this device, go to

Sources and Studies

1. Effectiveness and Safety of Spot Scanning Proton Radiation Therapy for Chordomas and Chondrosarcomas of the Skull Base: First Long-Term Report. Read More

2. A comparison of critical structure dose and toxicity risks in patients with low grade gliomas treated with imrt versus proton radiation therapy. Read More

3. Projected second tumor risk and dose to neurocognitive structures after proton versus photon radiotherapy for benign meningioma. Read More