Proton Therapy for Brain Tumors

Tumors of the brain are classified as either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign brain tumors may need to be treated because they can cause serious health problems by pressing on sensitive areas of the brain or may become malignant over time.

Malignant tumors are classified as brain cancer if they originate in the brain or have spread to the brain from cancers in other parts of the body. Because the brain is so complex, treatment to this area can have long-term implications for the nervous system or other organs. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, we recommend learning about all your treatment options before making a decision.

Although brain tumors can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and standard X-ray radiation, proton therapy can be particularly beneficial for brain tumor patients. Since the brain is in close proximity to many critical organs, structures, and other parts of the nervous system, the ability of protons to precisely target the tumor makes proton therapy at the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center a particularly effective treatment option for many brain tumors.

Proton therapy may be appropriate for the following types of brain tumors:

  • Low-grade gliomas
  • Grade III gliomas
  • Recurrent glioblastoma (on clinical trial)
  • Meningiomas
  • Ependymomas
  • Medulloblastomas5
  • Pineoblastomas
  • Supratentorial PNET
  • Germ cell tumors

The Proton Center is one of the few proton therapy centers throughout the Midwest and the only one in Illinois. Our team is dedicated to explaining all of your treatment options for brain cancer and facilitating a conversation with you and your physician or oncologist to determine the best course of treatment for you.

To learn if you can benefit from proton therapy, call 1.877.887.5807 or fill out our online form.

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Cancer Video
Watch a Video: Proton Therapy for Brain Tumors Hazeezat Makinde’s brain tumor was in a sensitive location so proton therapy was the perfect treatment option for her because of its accuracy and precision. To learn more about other tumor types, visit our Video Library.

Advantages of Proton Therapy for Brain Tumors

Proton therapy typically results in less damage to healthy brain tissue, eyes, and the optic nerve compared to standard X-ray radiation. This is because protons stop at the tumor without continuing past it the way X-ray radiation does. Less healthy brain tissue is exposed to proton therapy radiation than with X-ray/intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).1,2 As a result, patients may experience fewer side effects and have a lower likelihood of secondary tumors in the future compared with other radiation treatments.3-4

In the graphic to the left, you see that with proton therapy, the healthy tissue around the tumor and the critical organs have been spared any additional radiation. Some of the normal brain tissue receives 50 percent less radiation than with traditional X-rays.

Proton Center

Comprehensive Treatment Options for Brain Tumors

The Proton Center is among the most advanced cancer treatment facilities in Illinois offering proton therapy radiation as an alternative to standard radiation and X-ray therapy. When treating tumors in the brain, a combination of treatments is often used.

As one part of the innovative Northwestern Medicine cancer program, the Proton Center is dedicated to helping you understand your condition and treatment options.

Cancer Treatment Terms

Proton Therapy

A non-invasive treatment that uses proton radiation to kill cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing.

Proton therapy delivers less radiation to the non-target brain (defined as the normal brain minus the tumor area) than X-ray radiation. This decrease in dose to normal brain tissues may retain better overall brain function and reduce the likelihood of secondary tumors in the future.3-4

Standard X-ray Radiation

A commonly used radiation treatment to kill cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing. Options may include intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), Gamma Knife® and CyberKnife®.

However, tissues in the brain are very sensitive. Radiating healthy brain tissue can result in loss of memory, cognitive skills and mobility.


A surgery to the brain requiring the removal of a part of the skull.

After the surgeon has removed the tumor and affected cells, the patient’s own bone is used to cover the opening in the skull. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, risks may include infection, bleeding and nerve damage.


The use of drugs to kill or alter the cancer cells in the brain, often used in combination with other therapies.

Chemotherapy drugs can have improved effectiveness in treating brain tumors when used in combination with other treatments.

Request more information or call 877.887.5807 to learn if you can benefit from proton therapy.

A female proton therapy physician discussing proton therapy with a young woman.

Patient Stories

Read what our patients have to say about their proton therapy treatment and how proton therapy and our staff impacted their lives.

Read more

Contact Us

To discover if you or a loved one could benefit from proton therapy, please call us at 877.887.5807 (TTY 711).

Request Information

What to Expect with Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is non-invasive and painless. Depending on the patient's diagnosis, treatments at the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center are usually given five days a week for a period of four to eight weeks depending on the tumor type. In most cases, patients continue with normal activities before and after treatment.

Some patients choose to work; others go on a “radiation vacation” and spend their days doing recreational activities before or after treatment.

Learn more about what to expect when getting treated.