Brain Tumor Program: About Brain Tumors

A brain tumor is a mass of abnormal cells that forms in the brain or spinal cord. Brain tumors begin when normal cells go through changes (mutations) and start growing out of control. Some brain tumors can affect our ability to perform everyday tasks while others can lead to life-threatening complications.

The UC Irvine Health Comprehensive Brain Tumor Program delivers compassionate, leading-edge care that can extend your survival. We are one of the only programs in Orange County with a brain tumor team that includes physicians with years of specialized training (fellowship training) in diagnosing and treating brain tumors. This expertise allows us to successfully treat even the most difficult and hard to reach tumors.

Comprehensive care and treatment for brain tumors

Ours is a comprehensive brain tumor program, meaning we offer all the services you need, from diagnostic tests to the latest treatments. We take a team approach to your treatment, ensuring that you receive the best care possible from experts across disciplines.

Highlights of or program include:

  • Broad range of treatments: We offer the best available treatments, including advanced technologies that make surgeries and radiation therapy treatments safer and more accurate. We also offer access to new treatments, such as brain tumor vaccines, through innovative clinical trials. Learn more about brain tumor treatments ›
  • Patient help: Receiving a brain tumor diagnosis can be devastating for you and your family. We help you understand the diagnosis and treatment options so you know what to expect and how to take an active part in your care. Read more: Newly diagnosed with a brain tumor? ›
  • Timely access to care: To help you get information and care as quickly as possible, we promise a prompt response to all calls from new patients. If we are not immediately available, one of our physicians will call you back within 24 hours. You can also expect an appointment in as little as 48 hours, even if you are only seeking a second opinion. Learn more about second opinions ›
  • Clinical trials: Through research, we are paving the way toward improved brain tumor care. Clinical trials give you an opportunity to try new and experimental treatments that are not widely available. Some trials are only available through our program. Learn more about research and clinical trials ›
  • Patient support: You never have to feel alone. We can help you solve problems related to your care or just lend a caring ear. Our support services include spiritual support, brain tumor and cancer support groups and access to social workers. Learn more about our patient support services ›

Types of brain tumors

There are more than 120 different types of brain tumors. Each falls into one or more of the following categories:

  • Primary: Primary brain tumors originate from cells in the brain or spinal cord. Primary brain tumors can spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine. Examples of primary brain tumors include gliomas and pituitary tumors.
  • Metastatic: Also known as secondary brain tumors, metastatic tumors stem from cancers that develop in other parts of the body, then spread (metastasize) to the brain. For example, if you have liver cancer, tumor cells can travel through the bloodstream and settle in the brain. Find out more about metastatic brain tumors ›
  • Noncancerous (benign): Benign tumors are not cancerous. They also tend to grow slowly and are not likely to spread. Benign tumors still pose a risk of complications because they can grow large enough to disrupt normal brain functioning. Examples of benign tumors include meningiomas.
  • Cancerous (malignant): Malignant tumors are dangerous, fast-growing tumors that can spread to nearby brain tissue. Glioblastoma is one form of malignant brain tumor. Read more about glioblastomas ›

Learn more about types of tumors ›

Symptoms of brain tumors

A headache is the most common early symptom of a brain tumor, although headaches alone are not something to worry about. If you have headaches in combination with other symptoms, you should seek care from an expert physician.

Brain tumor symptoms include:

  • Numbness in your arms or legs
  • Vision problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty speaking or finding the right words
  • Difficulties with memory and thinking
  • Bursts of abnormal electrical activity in the brain (seizures)
  • Problems with coordination, including walking

Causes of brain tumors

Determining the cause of brain tumors is difficult because each type of tumor has its own unique characteristics. For example, women are more likely to get meningiomas than men, which suggests that hormones play a role. Other tumors, such as pituitary tumors, have a possible genetic link, meaning they are passed down in families.

Researchers are exploring whether there are specific causes of brain tumors that may help determine who is at risk.

Diagnosing brain tumors

We offer the complete range of diagnostic tests to pinpoint brain tumors. You may need one or more tests to help us accurately diagnose the tumor and plan personalized treatments.

Tests for diagnosing brain tumors include:

  • Neurologic exam: This test helps us determine whether the tumor is causing changes in brain functioning. During a neurologic exam, we ask questions and have you perform simple tasks to help us assess your vision, coordination and balance, as well as detect changes in mood or behavior.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: CT scans use X-rays to produce three-dimensional (3-D) images of the brain. Find out more about CT scans of the brain ›
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses a tunnel-shaped machine along with radio waves and strong magnets to produce detailed images of the brain. These images are often crisper and provide more detail than a CT scan. View a video about MRI scans ›
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: During a PET scan, we inject a safe radioactive substance with sugar into the blood. We use special imaging tests see how quickly brain tissue absorbs the sugar. PET scans help us pinpoint a tumor’s location and determine whether it may spread. Learn more about PET scans ›
  • Biopsy: Taking a sample of tumor tissue (biopsy) and examining it under a microscope can help us confirm or rule out a brain tumor diagnosis.

Brain tumor treatments

We give you access to the most advanced, effective treatments available. Our entire team of experts — including radiation oncologists, specialized neurosurgeons and neuro-oncologists — comes together to recommend a personalized treatment plan for you. We explain all of your options and then tailor treatments based on your personal preferences and unique medical needs.

Brain tumor treatments include:

  • Medications: Some medications control symptoms, such as nausea and seizures, but cannot shrink the tumor. These medications can help you feel more comfortable until you are able to have other treatments.
  • Surgery: We are one of few programs using special imaging (intra-operative imaging) along with sophisticated technology to target and remove tumors located deep within the brain. Learn more about neurosurgery ›
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy uses powerful, high-energy X-ray beams to shrink the tumor. Our radiation therapy technologies are so advanced, they can sense the slightest head movement. That means you get safer, more accurate treatments. Learn more about radiation therapy ›
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment uses special medications to destroy brain tumor cells (neuro-oncology). We also offer innovative treatments that harness the power of your own immune system to fight the tumor (brain tumor vaccine). Learn more about neuro-oncology ›

Contact us

To schedule an appointment, call 714-456-8000 or fill out an online request form. You may also send us an email.

Our 24-hour promise: If you are a new patient, one of our brain tumor physicians will return your call within 24 hours. You can be seen in our offices within 48 hours after insurance approval.