Allegheny Health Network
Find a
Doctor
Request An Appointment Login to
MyChart
Patient
Center
News Classes &
Events
Contact
Us
Call 412.Doctors

Neuro-Oncology

Expert physicians from the AHN Neuroscience Institute and the AHN Cancer Institute collaborate to provide patients who have brain and spine tumors with the highest quality care and most innovative treatments. Every day, our world-class cancer experts are preventing, detecting and beating cancer with incredible success and through a sincerely compassionate way.

The AHN Cancer Institute is a leading oncology program rated in the top 5 percent nationally for quality care. As one of the most integrated and innovative oncology programs in the United States, the institute’s experts are removing cancer from even the most delicate locations with our game-changing minimally invasive and robotic surgeries, radiating tumors so precisely that many patients are cancer-free with few side effects, and using highly advanced chemotherapy to shrink tumors to an operable state.  

As an integral part of the institute, the AHN Radiation Oncology Program is internationally recognized for treating all types of cancer effectively and safely using the most advanced techniques and technology. The program is the largest in the country accredited by both the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the first and only one in Pittsburgh to receive both accreditations.

Multidisciplinary Team and Innovative Discoveries
Our multifaceted team of AHN oncology experts, each with unique skills and knowledge, determine the best approaches for treating you – and the disease. Our neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiologists and healthcare staff collaborate to ensure that your extremely personalized care plan leads to the most positive outcome and long-term survival.

Research is a cornerstone of our program, providing you with the latest and most effective therapy to treat the disease. We currently have more than 200 active clinical trials that include drug and device trials, gene therapy and cell transplant research. The institute has direct access to numerous other clinical trials through its collaboration with the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine, and we're also active in the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) clinical trials.

Personalized Care
AHN sets itself apart from other cancer programs by focusing on your needs and not just the disease. With our expansive patient-focused services, our physicians plan your care to minimize your side effects, 24/7 care navigators keep your treatment on track, nutritionists maintain your strength, physical therapists work your muscles and counselors support your emotional rollercoaster.

You can receive all forms of cancer care at any of our seven hospitals and more than 50 Cancer Institute Centers located in several western Pennsylvania communities, as well as in Erie, West Virginia and Ohio. This vast – and very accessible – network allows us to give you exceptional cancer care and the comfort, security and convenience of being close to home.  

Brain and spinal cord conditions
Our experts treat common and rare brain and spinal cord tumors, including:

  • Anaplastic astrocytoma
  • Anaplastic mixed glioma
  • Anaplastic oligoastrocytoma
  • Anaplastic oligodendroglioma
  • Astrocytic cancer
  • Astrocytoma
  • Brain metastasis
  • Brain stem glioma
  • Central nervous system tumors
  • Chordoma
  • Colloid cyst
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Ganglioglioma
  • Ganglioglioneurocytoma
  • Germ cell tumor
  • Germinoma
  • Glioblastoma
  • Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM)
  • Glioma
  • Hemangioblastoma
  • Leptomeningeal disease (carcinomatous meningitis)
  • Low-grade glioma
  • Lymphoma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Meningioma
  • Mixed gliomas
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Neuromas
  • Oligodendroglioma
  • Pilocytic astrocytoma
  • Pineal gland parenchymal tumor
  • Pineal tumor
  • Pineoblastoma
  • Pituitary adenoma
  • Primary brain tumor
  • Spinal cord tumors
  • Skull base tumors
  • Vascular brain tumors
  • Vestibular schwannomas

 

Diagnosis

We provide advanced diagnostic testing to pinpoint benign and malignant tumors in the brain and on the spinal cord. The clarity and speed of highly sophisticated screening and diagnostic technologies available at the Cancer Institute means that you can receive a prompt diagnosis.

Our advanced testing includes:

Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of your body. A CT scan is more detailed than general X-rays and shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. This may be combined with dye to clarify your anatomy of blood vessels or alternatively with radioactive tracers so that doctors can detect minute deposits of cancer.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of organs and structures within your body. These images can be further refined by the use of tractography, which outlines major functional brain connections.

Stereotactic needle biopsy is a minimally invasive method of obtaining brain tissue for analysis by a pathologist. It combines sophisticated computer imaging with a localizing frame to accurately and reliably target suspicious areas found on imaging. You are typically discharged the following day and can immediately resume your normal routines.

Treatments

We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of surgical, radiation and medical oncologists who work together to develop an optimal treatment plan for you. This spectrum of care ensures that you have access to every possible treatment, procedure and clinical trial best suited for your situation.

Our extensive treatment options include:

Surgery
The Cancer Institute’s skilled surgeons, who utilize the latest techniques and technologies, are among the most experienced in the country. Their expertise ensures the best possible outcome from your treatment.

Our advanced surgical options include:

Craniotomy is the surgical removal of part of the bone from your skull to expose the brain and remove a brain tumor. The bone is replaced after the brain surgery has been performed.

Awake craniotomy is performed in the same fashion as a conventional craniotomy, but you are awake during surgery to make sure that critical parts of your brain are spared from being damaged by the surgery. For instance, because brain tumors are often located in areas of the brain that control speech, they need to be removed without harming such areas. This can be performed by identifying these areas, using electrical stimulation and monitoring your responses.

Cortical mapping is an advanced technology that our neurosurgeons use prior to removing tumors located near areas that control movement. You are asleep under anesthesia, but the procedure is performed in such a way that allows the surgeon to electrically stimulate brain areas and monitor responses while identifying critical tissue related to motor movement. With this sophisticated technology, the surgeon can remove as much of the tumor as possible while preserving all critical brain functions.

Endoscopic pituitary surgery is a minimally invasive technique that requires no incisions for removing tumors in the pituitary gland. Neurosurgeons remove the tumor by inserting an endoscope – with a microscope, light and camera built into it – through your nose and to the pituitary gland.

Novocure portable device is a unique non-invasive instrument that uses electrical fields to slow, and possibly reverse, tumor growth. It involves placing electrodes on your scalp to deliver low-intensity electrical fields to the tumor site.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) involves a one-day outpatient procedure that delivers a single, focused high dose of radiation to a tumor. Our highly sophisticated and precise dosing and targeting system allows our surgeons to irradiate not only round and defined tumors, but also tumors of irregular shapes and sizes.

Stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT) involves giving you a series of radiation treatments (typically 3 to 5) over several days with your head placed in a removable head frame. Keeping your head positioned the same way during each treatment allows our doctors to accurately target the radiation toward the tumor while allowing minimal radiation exposure to surrounding normal brain structures. This fractionated method is an exceptional therapy for cases where the tumor is adjacent to critical structures, such as the brain stem, eyes or optical nerves. We also utilize this approach for acoustic neuromas.

5-aminolevunilic acid (5-ALA) is an orally administered drug given right before surgery to enhance the removal of primary brain tumors. It aids surgeons with identifying the tumor and surrounding healthy tissue by tagging the tumor with a fluorescent dye that can be visualized during the operation.

Radiation Oncology
With state-of-the-art technology and advanced computer software and imaging, our radiation oncologists can administer high-dose radiation beams directly to a tumor while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue and organs.

You can feel reassured that you are receiving the highest quality and safest radiation oncology care, as we are the country’s largest – and western Pennsylvania’s only – radiation oncology network accredited by both the American Society for Radiation Oncology and American College of Radiology. This means that the Cancer Institute meets specific practice guidelines and technical standards when it comes to patient care and treatment, patient safety, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality-control procedures and quality assurance programs.

Our advanced radiation treatments include:

Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT) is the use of daily imaging to deliver precise and accurate radiation treatment. With this technology, physicians can image the tumor immediately before or during radiation treatment, making necessary adjustments as needed for pinpoint accuracy and minimal harm to surrounding healthy tissue.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) requires the use of sophisticated computer technology to map the precise dimensions and density of cancerous tumors. Then virtual treatment simulations are performed, and the radiation dose's shape and intensity is conformed to the simulation's exact parameters with minimal harm to surrounding healthy tissue. IMRT is often used together with IGRT.

Stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT) involves giving you a series of radiation treatments over several days (typically three to five) with your head placed in a removable head frame. Keeping your head positioned the same way at each treatment allows our doctors to accurately target the radiation toward the tumor while allowing minimal radiation exposure to surrounding normal brain structures. This fractionated method is an exceptional therapy for cases where the tumor is adjacent to critical structures, such as the brain stem, eyes or optical nerves. We also utilize this approach for acoustic neuromas.

Stereotactic radiosurgery involves a one-day outpatient procedure that delivers a single, focused high dose of radiation to a tumor. Our highly sophisticated and precise dosing and targeting system allows our surgeons to irradiate not only round and defined tumors but also tumors of irregular shapes and sizes.

Medical Oncology
Medical oncologists treat patients with systemic drugs that are designed to kill cancer throughout your body. They can be administered either by mouth (oral) or by vein (intravenous).

Our advanced therapies include:

Chemotherapy is the use of medicines that directly kill cancer cells, much like antibiotics kill bacteria. Side effects may occur, such as hair loss, nausea or lowered blood counts because these medicines can damage normal cells as well. Fortunately, your body’s normal cells are more resilient and recover much better than cancer cells. You are monitored carefully and the dose of chemotherapy is calculated to maximize effectiveness and minimize side effects. One example of a chemotherapy designed specifically for brain cancers is Gliadel® Wafer therapy. This treatment is an FDA-approved chemotherapeutic implant that is inserted directly into the area of the brain tumor during surgery.

Targeted therapy is the use of medicines that kill cancer cells in a different way. They attack specific genes within the tumor cells or in the surrounding blood vessels that help the tumor grow. Targeted therapies are much less toxic than chemotherapy and, in some cases, more effective. One example of targeted therapy used in central nervous system cancers is Bevacizumab. This is an Angiogenesis inhibitor medicine that works by attacking the blood supply to the tumor. This medicine reduces the swelling around a tumor and improves the ability of chemotherapeutic drugs to penetrate the tumor, which, in turn, shrinks the tumor.

Immunotherapy is a form of biological therapy designed to stimulate your own immune system to fight cancer. This therapy includes cancer vaccines, genetically engineered human immune stimulatory molecules and monoclonal antibodies that enhance cellular immune function.

Neoadjuvant therapy is treatment given before surgery, including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or targeted therapy. This may reduce the amount of tumor remaining at the time of surgery, allowing for a more conservative operation.

Adjuvant therapy is treatment given after surgery to reduce the chance of residual microscopic cancer cells remaining in the body. This may include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy and/or radiation therapy.