Neuro-Oncology

Tumors of the nervous system – the brain or spine – sound frightening but they are treatable. The Neuro-Oncology team at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute is here to help with a level of expertise unmatched in the region.

Tumors of the brain and spine, like other cancerous tumors, form when normal or abnormal cells multiply unnecessarily. Because of the location and complexity of these tumors, we take a team approach to providing care, working with you to design a care plan. 

The team includes the skills of such advanced specialists as neurosurgeons dedicated to brain tumor operations, neurologists, neuro-pathologists, neuro-oncologists, neuro-radiologists and radiation oncologists.                                        

Every patient’s case is presented to the tumor board, as well as to broader teams of experts from across the Cancer Institute, so every available option is considered when creating your care plan.

Our membership in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance also means you have access to the latest technologies and clinical research trials offering promising advances in treating tumors.


Connect with a Nurse Navigator

Call 855.255.6181 or request a callback for support, advice, or a second opinion.

Meet Our Team


Types of Brain Tumors 

Brain tumors fall into two categories:

  • Primary Tumors start, and typically stay, in the brain. There are more than 120 types of primary brain tumors, including gliomas. They are grouped into two categories. Benign (noncancerous) tumors, depending on location, usually can be resolved with surgery. Malignant (cancerous) tumors -- rapidly growing, invasive and life-threatening -- can spread within the brain and spine.
  • Metastatic Tumors start as cancer somewhere else in the body, such as the lung or breast, and spread to the brain.

Symptoms of Neurologic Cancer

Because tumors of the spine and brain put pressure on sensitive areas that control emotional and physical function, there can be many symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired vision or hearing
  • Behavioral changes
  • Confused thinking
  • Unsteady movement
  • Pain
  • Numbness or paralysis

Diagnosing Neurologic Cancer

When symptoms warrant, your provider checks the function of your brain and spinal cord by testing your reflexes, muscle strength, vision, eye and mouth movement, coordination, balance and alertness.

Based on these results, you may be referred for such imaging tests as:

  • MRI and MRI Spectroscopy
  • Functional MRI
  • CT Scan
  • PET Scan

If imaging reveals a tumor, the next step may be a biopsy. A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which some tissue is removed from the mass and sent to the lab for examination under a microscope.


Treating Neurologic Cancer

Once you have been diagnosed, our nurse navigator coordinates any necessary appointments with providers and other resources. Tumors are graded based on their location and type, which helps us tailor treatment to your needs.

The Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute neuro-oncology team is among the few in New England using the most advanced tools available to treat tumors of the spine and brain.

Treatment can include these advanced procedures:

  • Beam radiation with stereotactic radiosurgery, a nonsurgical therapy that pinpoints high-dose radiation on tumors on or around the spinal cord and brain. Traditional surgery in those areas would be more invasive and dangerous.
  • Awake craniotomy, which uses brain mapping and functional MRI to determine the critical language areas in the brain so surgeons can “map” the brain before removing a tumor. During surgery, our specialized team collaborates with the patient to test language function while they remove the tumor.
  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. We are always seeking new ways to come closer to complete tumor removal, such as certifying our neurosurgeons in the use of a new, non-fluorescent dye before surgery to help them better identify the tumor’s margins.
  • Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, typically used after surgery to ensure all cancerous cells are gone. Sophisticated tests identify tumor mutations, which helps us choose chemotherapy that is specific to your tumor.
  • Immunotherapy, which stimulates the immune system. There is highly promising research into new ways of stimulating the body’s immune system to kill tumor cells with vaccines, viruses and immune cell infusions.
  • Tumor-treating fields, a relatively new way to treat glioma brain tumors using a device placed on the skull that delivers electrical currents to kill tumors. The device is worn most of the day, but the only side effect is mild scalp irritation.

As you undergo surgery or therapy, our team will coordinate whatever help you and your family need, including:

  • Visit scheduling and coordination
  • Early rehabilitation
  • Coordinating care close to your home when possible
  • Scheduling visiting nurse services for extra care at home
  • Arranging for blood draws at home
  • Phone-call reminders for blood draws and oral chemotherapy
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance

We offer the latest treatments through our ongoing membership in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Alliance, which gives you access to the latest standards of care and clinical trials.

The MSK Alliance

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Support at the Cancer Institute

The Cancer Institute offers whatever you and your family need on your journey, whether it’s access to an oncology social worker, a nurse navigator to coordinate your care or the support of our Patient and Family Resource Center.

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute