Overview

Innovative, research-based care

At UW Health, our brain tumor team treats common and complex brain tumors in adults and children. We are known throughout the nation for being able to remove and treat all types of brain tumors, including those that are hard to reach.

Brain tumors can be cancerous or noncancerous. If your tumor is cancerous, we partner with the UW Carbone Cancer Center to provide expert cancer care. This is Wisconsin’s only Comprehensive Cancer Center, as named by the National Cancer Institute.

Programs and research

Team-based, advanced care

At UW Health, we treat more than 1,200 brain tumor patients each year. Our doctors and nurses use the most advanced techniques for diagnosis and treatment. We take a team approach to your care and coordinate appointments to reduce your travel.

The UW Health Brain Tumor Center is recognized as:

Benefit from our research

The tumor doctors at UW Health study ways to improve brain tumor care and treatment. Their studies allow you to access the latest treatments. Learn more about our research and clinical trials

Conditions

What we treat


At UW Health, we treat and manage all types of brain tumors. A brain tumor is a group of cells that behave abnormally in your brain. Brain tumors either begin in the brain or grow elsewhere and travel to the brain. Most brain tumors are not cancerous.

The most common brain tumors we treat are:

A glioma is a tumor that grows from glial cells in the brain or spinal cord. Glial cells support and protect neurons. Gliomas are categorized broadly into three types that are named according to the type of glial cell affected: ependymomas, astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas.

A meningioma is a tumor that grows from the meninges, or a membrane that covers the brain. Meningiomas are typically noncancerous and slow-growing.

The pituitary is a pea-sized gland inside your brain that controls hormone activity. A pituitary adenoma is a tumor that grows from the pituitary gland. Pituitary adenomas are typically noncancerous and slow-growing.

A metastatic brain tumor is a tumor that starts in another part of your body then travels to your brain.

Other brain tumors we treat include:

A chordoma is a bone cancer that grows from the spine or bottom of the skull. These tumors are rare and usually slow-growing.

A choroid plexus tumor arises from the choroid plexus in the brain. The choroid plexus is a group of cells that generate cerebrospinal fluid for the brain and spinal cord. There are two types of these tumors. Choroid plexus papilloma is more common. Choroid plexus carcinomas are rare.

A central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma grows from lymph tissue in the brain or spinal cord. CNS lymphomas can originate in the brain or travel to the brain or spinal cord from somewhere else in the body. CNS lymphomas often recur.

A craniopharyngioma grows near the pituitary gland in the brain. They are generally noncancerous, slow-growing and rare.

These noncancerous tumors form as an embryo is developing. They are cells that are meant to become skin, hair or nail tissue that become trapped in the developing brain or spinal cord. Dermoid tumors contain hair or sebaceous glands. Epidermoid tumors do not. If these tumors spill their contents into the brain, they cause a form of meningitis.

An ependymoma is a glioma that grows from ependymal cells in the brain and spinal cord. Ependymal cells line the areas that carry cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain and spinal cord. Ependymomas are rare and usually slow-growing.

An esthesioneuroblastoma (also called an olfactory neuroblastoma) grows from within the nose and the front of the brain. Some of these tumors grow slowly, others grow fast. Esthesioneuroblastoma are rare.

Fibrous dysplasia occurs when fibrous or scarred tissue replaces healthy bone. Fibrous dysplasia weakens bone, which causes fractures or malformation. Fibrous dysplasia is usually noncancerous.

A germinoma grows from cells that can produce sperm or eggs during fetal development. These rare tumors often are diagnosed in patients under 20 years old.

This tumor is the most aggressive form of glioma. It is also called a grade IV astrocytoma. Glioblastoma forms in brain tissue. This type of tumor occurs most often in older adults. It is more common in men than in women.

A hemangiopericytoma grows from cells that line small blood vessels. In the brain, hemangiopericytomas grow from the membrane that covers the brain. These tumors are typically aggressive.

A medulloblastoma grows from fetal cells present in the base of the brain. These tumors occur most often in children. Medulloblastomas are cancerous and fast-growing.

A nongerminoma grows from cells that produce sperm or eggs. Nongerminomas occur in the brain and spinal cord. They are usually cancerous and fast-growing.

A pineoblastoma grows from the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland is responsible for producing and releasing hormones such as melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. Pineoblastomas are rare, aggressive and fast-growing.

Rathke’s cleft cyst is a sac-like pocket of fluid that forms between the anterior and posterior pituitary glands in the brain. Rathke’s cleft cysts are noncancerous and slow-growing.

A vestibular schwannoma (also called an acoustic neuroma) grows in the inner ear on balance and hearing nerves. Vestibular schwannoma tumors are typically noncancerous and slow-growing.

Treatments

Treatments for the best outcomes

The best tumor treatment will depend on what type of tumor you have and where it’s located. Your care team will work with you to create a plan that is best for your unique health.

Evaluating your tumor

Typically we need to get images of your tumor to know how to best treat it. At UW Health, we offer many advanced brain imaging options, including the latest MRI and PET scanning techniques.

Noninvasive treatments 

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat symptoms of your tumor. Sometimes steroids are prescribed to reduce swelling. This lets your doctor see the extent of your tumor. 

Chemotherapy  

After surgery, we use chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. 

Surgical treatments

Some tumors must be removed with surgery. We always use the least invasive option. This helps you have less pain and a quicker recovery. 

Radiation treatments

Radiation destroys tumor cells. There are different radiation treatments available. They include:

  • Image-guided radiation therapy: Uses imaging systems to guide radiation to a tumor target

  • Pulsed reduced-dose rate radiation therapy: Slowly delivers radiation. This reduces damage to normal brain tissue.

  • Stereostatic radiosurgery: Pinpoints a tumor and protects nearby healthy tissues.

Other treatment options

Depending on your type of tumor, you may need other treatments. Options include:

  • Optune device: This treatment uses electric fields to stop cancer cells from growing.

Patient and support services

Support for you and your family

Your tumor care team provides any support you and your family might need. We help you access services and reduce stress.

Brain tumor support group

Our brain tumor support group brings together patients, survivors, family and friends. You’ll learn about brain tumors and share experiences. The group meets on the third Tuesday of the month at University Hospital. Start times vary. To get notices of meetings and events, please email Stacey Martens at smartens@uwhealth.org or call (608) 263-8521.

Pituitary tumor FAQ

Get answers to frequently asked questions about pituitary tumors.

Patient stories

Care that delivers hope

At UW Health, we use advanced procedures to treat challenging brain tumors, provide second opinions and deliver hope. These patient stories show how our brain tumor expertise changes the outcome for our patients.

Learn from their experiences

For Purdue engineering professor Dan Ferguson, three things led to a promising outlook for his brain tumor — surgery, the Optune device and ongoing treatment at UW Health. Read Dan’s story

Jordan Dorf came from Denver to UW Health for pituitary tumor removal. A friend from high school helped him make the long-distance connection. Read Jordan’s story.

Six-year-old Bentley Thatcher’s parents noticed a tremor in his hand. An MRI showed a tumor the size of a softball in Bentley’s thalamus. Doctors in Michigan referred Bentley to UW Health. Read Bentley’s story.

A bad headache during a fishing trip led to Phoebe Yancy’s brain tumor diagnosis at age 11. After nine months of treatment, Phoebe’s scans are looking great. Read Phoebe’s story.

Shortly after her 19th birthday, Josie Gotz noticed weakness in her hand. She was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. A second opinion from UW Health led to treatment. Read Josie’s story.

At age 43, Gary Pedretti was living with what he thought was an inoperable brain tumor. A chance encounter led Gary to UW Health. His tumor was completely removed. Read Gary’s story.

Locations

Brain tumor care close to home

We offer specialized brain tumor care at UW Health clinics in Madison.

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  • University Hospital - Neurosurgery
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 263-7502
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  • American Family Children's Hospital - Pediatric Neurosurgery
    • 1675 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 263-6420
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  • University Hospital - Pituitary Tumor Clinic
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 263-7502
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  • UW Carbone Cancer Center - Brain and Central Nervous System Tumors Clinic
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 263-8500
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Meet our team

Specialty brain tumor care teams

The brain tumor team at UW Health includes experts in brain tumors, cancer, neurology and neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery
Medical oncology
Radiation oncology
Pediatric neurosurgery