Brain and spinal cord cancers

Brain and spinal cord cancers overview

The neuro-oncology team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) and UW Medicine has a wide breadth of expertise in both primary brain cancers and in brain and spinal cord metastases. At the SCCA Brain and Spine Metastases Clinic, we specialize in treating patients with a primary cancer that has spread to the brain and spinal cord, known as brain and spinal cord metastases. SCCA is one of the only centers in the U.S. with expertise in brain and spinal cord metastases.

Primary cancer The original, or first, tumor in the body. The original, or first, tumor in the body. Cancer cells from a primary cancer may spread to other parts of the body and form new, or secondary, tumors. This is called metastasis. These secondary tumors are the same type of cancer as the primary cancer. Also called primary tumor.

Making medical decisions regarding the treatment of brain and spinal cord metastases is complex and requires an advanced level of knowledge and experience. Knowing how to minimize the side effects of treatments that can affect a patient’s brain function is also critical. 

Our medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons are among the nation’s most knowledgeable and respected physicians in brain and spinal cord oncology. Each week, a team of multidisciplinary providers — including expert physicians, nurses and researchers — meets to discuss, evaluate and plan each patient’s individualized care. 

Through the SCCA Brain and Spine Metastases Clinic, we offer the most advanced treatment options available, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. In addition, there are options for treatment within a clinical trial. We work closely with the Gamma Center at Harborview Medical Center, the SCCA Proton Therapy Center and the Alvord Brain Tumor Center at UW Medical Center – Montlake.

At SCCA, we also offer our patients robust supportive care services such as nutrition, social work and psychiatry. It is important to us to care for our patients as a whole person, not just the disease or cancer. 

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Immunotherapy A type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. A therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. Some immunotherapies only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and some monoclonal antibodies. Radiation oncologist A physician who has special training in using radiation to treat cancer. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

About our patients

Our patients are often referred by their primary medical oncologist, who is treating their primary cancer. Some patients are seeking new options and a second opinion for their brain and spinal cord metastases. 

We work closely with your primary cancer oncologist, involving them in your care and communicating with them frequently. Your primary oncologist remains with you throughout your brain or spinal cord metastasis treatment, and the treatments we offer complement your primary cancer care. 

Medical oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist is often the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists. Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Primary cancer The original, or first, tumor in the body. The original, or first, tumor in the body. Cancer cells from a primary cancer may spread to other parts of the body and form new, or secondary, tumors. This is called metastasis. These secondary tumors are the same type of cancer as the primary cancer. Also called primary tumor.

For patients with primary brain or spinal cord cancers

For patients with a primary (non-metastasized) brain or spinal cord cancer, our partners at the  Alvord Brain Tumor Center at UW Medical Center – Montlake have a robust team with dedicated expertise in treating these cancers. Treatment is available for every type of primary brain and spinal cord cancer. 

SCCA Brain and Spine Metastases Clinic
phone (855) 557-0555
To request an appointment with a specialist in brain or spinal cord metastases.
Alvord Brain Tumor Center
UW Medical Center – Montlake
phone (206) 598-2282
To request an appointment with a specialist in primary brain or spinal cord cancer.

What to expect

If you have been diagnosed with brain or spinal cord metastasis, our neuro-oncology team at SCCA is here for you. Our experts care for people just like you — all day, every day. We’re ready to provide our expertise, treatment and support to you and your family. 

Your first appointment

Bring any records that you may have from your other doctors and hospitals, including: 

  • MRI and CT scans
  • Pathology slides
  • Written summaries of your treatments and progress

During your first visit to the SCCA Neuro-Oncology and Brain Metastases Clinic, which will take about one hour, you can expect to:

  • Listen to your doctor’s recommendations
  • Discuss any questions you may have
  • Meet members of your care team, including your physician and nurse
  • Meet with a member of the research team (if you are interested and if it is an option for your care)
  • Leave with a clear understanding of your brain or spinal cord metastases, treatment plan and prognosis

It can be helpful to ask a friend or family member to join you at this first appointment. This person can help you get to and from appointments, take notes, help you remember to ask questions and write down your doctor’s answers,  and offer emotional support.

Computed tomography A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. This scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment or find out how well treatment is working. Magnetic resonance imaging A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or X-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints and the inside of bones. Treatment plan A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A treatment plan may also include information about how much the treatment is likely to cost and about regular follow-up care after treatment ends.
Where you will be treated
  • Patients with brain and spinal cord metastases work with neuro-oncologists and neurosurgeons from the SCCA Neuro-Oncology and Brain Metastases Clinic at SCCA South Lake Union and UW Medical Center - Montlake.
  • Patients with primary brain or spinal cord cancers work with neuro-oncologists and neurosurgeons from the Alvord Brain Tumor Center at UW Medical Center - Montlake.  
  • Patients who are receiving gamma knife treatment are treated at Harborview Medical Center.
Neuro-oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating brain tumors and other tumors of the nervous system.
Getting the support you need

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a brain or spinal cord metastasis, we have a number of resources available to support you.

  • Your care team includes a clinic nurse, who is available during clinic visits and by phone. Your nurse can answer questions and help you manage any side effects you may experience.
  • Social workers can help you with the emotional and practical aspects of coping with illness. 
  • Many other support services are available through SCCA, such as help with insurance and billing, transportation services, nutrition support and more. 

Learn About Our Supportive Care Services.

Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

Treatment

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) Brain and Spine Metastases Clinic offers the most advanced treatment options to patients who have cancer that has metastasized to the brain or spinal cord. Our treatments are based on the latest available scientific evidence and clinical research. 

Providers

At SCCA, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes physicians, a patient care coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.

Clinical trials

SCCA’s neuro-oncology team brings together specialized clinicians and scientists focused on neuro-oncology research. This means there are more treatment options at SCCA than you might find elsewhere, including the chance to participate in one of many ongoing clinical trials at SCCA and its partner organizations, Fred Hutch and UW Medicine.