Home » Specialties » Brain tumors and neuro-oncology

Brain tumors and neuro-oncology

From primary to metastatic brain tumors, the NorthShore Neurological Institute (NNI) at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) specializes in leading-edge, minimally invasive treatment options to remove hard-to-reach tumors and improve quality of life.

Defining terms

What is neuro-oncology?

Neuro-oncology is the medical study and treatment of brain and spine tumors.

The two general categories of tumors treated are those originating in the brain called glioblastomas and those cancers that begin in another part of the body and involve the brain secondarily, called metastatic brain tumors. Spine tumors are often metastatic, while primary spinal tumors less common.

Are all brain tumors cancerous?

Not all brain tumors are cancerous.

Non-malignant (benign) brain tumors differ from more aggressive (malignant) tumors in that they tend to have distinct borders, grow more slowly and do not often spread to other parts of the brain or the body. Both malignant and benign tumors are considered serious and require treatment due to their location.


Our neurosurgery team specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of a variety of brain tumors, both primary and metastatic as well as malignant and benign, including:

  • Arachnoid cysts
  • Astrocytomas
  • Chordoma
  • Colloid cyst
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Epidermoid cyst
  • Gangliogliomas
  • Glioma and glioblastoma
  • Hemangioblastoma
  • Intraventricular tumors
  • Meningiomas
  • Metastatic brain tumors
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (esthesioneuroblastoma)
  • Pineal region tumors
  • Schwannoma (trigeminal and vestibular)
  • Spinal cord tumors


The location of the tumor will affect the function controlled by that area of the brain to produce the symptoms a patient experiences. The most common symptoms of brain tumors include:

  • Behavior and personality changes
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dizziness or difficulty balancing
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Hearing or vision loss or changes
  • Memory loss
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis to one or more parts of the body
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Struggling to think or speak normally

If the tumor is small, some patients might not experience any symptoms. As tumors grow, they put pressure on the healthy tissue surrounding them, causing symptoms to develop or worsen.


Brain tumors can be diagnosed by a trained specialist through a neurological examination and testing.

  • Diagnosis begins with a physical examination. Your physician will test common neurological functions such as balance, reflexes, hearing, vision and memory.
  • If it is determined further investigation is needed, they may prescribe medical imaging such as a CT scan, MRI, angiogram or X-ray.
  • Depending on the size and location of the brain tumor, your physician may perform a biopsy to collect a sample of tissue from the tumor for detailed analysis of its microscopic and genetic characteristics needed to guide therapy.

Throughout this examination, your specialist will discover the tumor’s precise location, its grade or aggressiveness and its tumor type to determine the best course of treatment for you.


To treat brain tumors, our team of experts collaborate across specialties and subspecialties to provide a comprehensive care plan unique to your condition. Your care plan may include a combination of minimally invasive surgery, stereotactic radiosurgery, radiation oncology and chemotherapy.

Our team is also a teaching location for other specialists in the following leading-edge surgical techniques:

Conscious/awake brain surgery

Our team spent two decades pioneering the concept of conscious brain surgery to preserve the most important human brain functions that allow us to be the individuals that we are: cognition and thought.

Learn more about conscious surgery ›

Expanded endonasal surgery

Dr. Amin Kassam led the team that was responsible for pioneering expanded endonasal skull base surgery — a minimally invasive surgical method that allows surgeons to remove tumors through a patient’s nostrils as natural access points — negating the need for incisions and reducing the complication rate in some instances by tenfold.

Learn more about expanded endonasal surgery>>

Deep brain (subcortical) below the surface white matter surgery

Dr. Kassam’s team pioneered this advanced approach for minimally invasive access to the deep neural network below the brain surface, employing machine-learning systems to map the entire human brain in 15 minutes, a machine-interfaced exoscopic robot arm and the conscious surgery technique to preserve critical brain functions.

Learn more about deep brain surgery>>

Ready to support you

Receiving a brain tumor diagnosis can be daunting; however, we are here to support you on your journey. Our team will do all that we can to help you and your family understand your condition, explore the available treatment options and access any other needed resources.

NNI at NCH matches each and every patient with the right specialists, technologies and treatment options. You will partner with a team dedicated to your individual situation, condition and needs.

From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, we’ll be there for you.