Brain and spinal tumours

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Treatments for brain and spinal cord tumours

If you have a brain or spinal cord tumour, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for a brain or spinal cord tumour, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the type of tumour
  • the grade of the tumour
  • the location of the tumour
  • the size of the tumour
  • your neurological (nervous system) function
  • your age and overall health
  • previous treatment

You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for brain and spinal cord tumours.


Depending on the location and size of the tumour, you may have one of the following types of surgery.

Craniotomy is done to remove a brain tumour.

Brain mapping is done during a craniotomy to track areas around the tumour that are responsible for speech, understanding speech, movement and reflexes.

Surgery to drain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is done to reduce a buildup of CSF in the brain.

Surgery to place an Ommaya reservoir is done to remove extra CSF in the brain, get samples of CSF or inject chemotherapy directly into the CSF or a tumour.

Laminectomy is done to remove a spinal tumour.

En bloc resection is done to remove a spinal tumour.

Stabilization of the spine is done when part or all of a vertebra from the spine is removed.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy may be used if the tumour can’t be removed with surgery or it may be given after surgery to prevent or relieve symptoms. It may also be used if the tumour comes back after treatment (recurs).


Chemotherapy may be used after surgery, to treat brain tumours that have come back (recurred) after treatment (after or along with radiation therapy), or to treat cancer that has spread to the spine from other areas of the body.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy may be used after surgery if the tumour can’t be completely removed, if previous treatment has failed or if the tumour has come back (recurred) after treatment.

Active surveillance

Active surveillance may be used for some types of low-grade brain and spinal cord tumours.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Treatments for brain and bone metastases

There are different treatment options for brain metastases (cancer that has spread to the brain from other organs) and bone metastases (cancer that has spread to the bones of the spine from other organs).

Find out more about treatment for brain metastases and bone metastases.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

Some clinical trials in Canada are open to people with brain and spinal cord tumours. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.


A teenaged girl sitting on her bed I was in total shock when I heard the diagnosis of cancer. Cancer to me was an adult’s disease. Being a 13-year-old teenager, it certainly wasn’t even on my radar.

Read Sabrina's story

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