Brain & Spinal Tumors

Home to Indiana’s only neuro-oncology program with formally-trained physicians, the Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center delivers the highest level of care to people with brain and spinal tumors. Together, radiation oncologists, neurosurgeons, neuropathologists and neuropsychologists ensure people receive the most current, comprehensive treatment from the state's most experienced tumor specialists.

The neuro-oncology program at Indiana University Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center works in close collaboration with the IU Health Neuroscience Center to help determine the best course of treatment for each patient. This team-oriented approach allows our program to pull from multiple areas of neurological and oncological expertise, providing a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to patient care and improving patient outcomes.

Physicians at IU Health treat a high number of brain and spinal tumors each year, successfully managing even the most complex cases. Their experience in the latest minimally invasive and interventional neuroradiology techniques enables them to diagnose and treat tumors with greater precision for better outcomes. Our tumor specialists are often asked to provide a second opinion on difficult-to-treat tumors, and many people turn to IU Health for help in overcoming challenging conditions.

In addition to having a spinal surgery program that is designated as a Blue Distinction Center by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana, our specialists also have advanced experience treating a wide range of brain tumors, including:

  • Malignant gliomas/astrocytomas
  • Low-grade gliomas
  • Meningiomas
  • Medulloblastomas
  • Ependymomas
  • Metastatic brain tumors (breast, lung, melanoma, sarcoma, ovarian, renal cell, colon)


Our neuroradiologists use the most sophisticated neuro-imaging technology available for fast, accurate diagnoses. Diagnostic tools include:

  • Minimally invasive stereotactic biopsy
  • Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Functional MRI
  • Nuclear medicine imaging
  • Lumbar puncture

Treatment Options/Technologies

Our team works together to develop a treatment plan customized to each person’s unique situation. As pioneers in brain and spinal tumor surgery, we provide a variety of innovative surgical and minimally-invasive treatment options, including:


The highly skilled neurosurgeons at IU Health are the most experienced in the state. We perform all types of craniotomies, including:

  • Traditional craniotomy, in which a portion of the skull is removed to access the brain and then replaced at the end of surgery. Craniotomies are named for the bone that is removed during surgery. Our experienced neurosurgeons perform all types of craniotomy, including frontotemporal, parietal and suboccipital.
  • Keyhole craniotomy, a minimally-invasive procedure where a small hole is made in the skull. Neurosurgeons at IU Health Neuroscience use this to access brain tumors, drain excess fluid or a blood clot or insert a shunt or pressure monitor.
  • Stereotactic craniotomy, a minimally-invasive procedure which uses advanced CT and MRI scans to create a very precise 3D brain map. Using the map as a guide, neurosurgeons navigate very precisely to a tumor. It helps surgeons safely locate and remove hard-to-reach tumors through several very small incisions, while lowering the risk of damage to surrounding tissue in the brain.
  • Awake craniotomy, in which the patient is heavily sedated but awake during surgery. Neurosurgeons use electrical stimulation and MRI technology to identify and map the parts of the brain that control speech, vision and motor function. With patients awake and responding to questions and prompts, our neurosurgeons can target the tumor, while ensuring the vital structures of the brain are not damaged. The neurosurgery team at IU Health performed the first awake craniotomy in Indiana and has received national coverage for its pioneering advances.

Watch the inspiring story of Jeff Bulmahn, an Indiana farmer who underwent an awake craniotomy to successfully remove a life-threatening brain tumor.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Despite its name, this is a non-invasive treatment that treats brain tumors with high doses of radiation. Because the Gamma Knife is so precise, doctors can deliver very high doses of radiation without damaging surrounding tissue. IU Health is a pioneer in radiosurgery and was the first in the state to offer this treatment. Since acquiring this technology in 1997, surgeons at IU Health have used the Gamma Knife to treat more than 2,000 patients.

Interventional Neuroradiology

Interventional neuroradiologists at IU Health use imaging technology and catheters to treat brain and spinal problems from inside the blood vessels. At IU Health, interventional neuroradiology is used for treating brain and spinal cord tumors and disorders, as well as vertebral compressions from osteoporosis, tumors or trauma. It allows our interventional neuroradiologists to access hard-to-reach areas of the brain and spine with just a few small surgical cuts.

Intraoperative MRI

As pioneers in brain and spinal tumor surgery, the IU Health team of neurosurgeons is the most experienced in Indiana. Aided by the state’s first intraoperative MRI scanner, neurosurgeons can provide the most precise brain tumor removal surgery. MRI allows surgeons to distinguish a tumor from healthy tissue, and intraoperative MRI permits surgeons to see real-time MRI images during surgery. This leading-edge technology ensures more complete tumor removal, often eliminating the need for repeat surgery and resulting in better outcomes.

Watch how the expert physicians at IU Health used this advanced MRI technology to deliver leading-edge care to Travis Weir, a patient who needed surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Novalis-Shaped Beam Surgery

In this non-invasive treatment, neurosurgeons at IU Health use advanced technology to shape a radiation beam around a brain tumor. Novalis-shaped beam surgery allows IU Health neurosurgeons to deliver a very high dose directly to the entire tumor, while protecting surrounding areas from radiation damage.

O-arm Surgical Imaging System

Similar to the intraoperative MRI, the O-arm surgical imaging system provides real-time 2D and 3D imaging to help surgeons perform less invasive spinal surgeries and confirm placement of hardware before a patient leaves the operating room. This can lead to increased safety and a faster recovery.

Watch how mobile CT scanner technology helped doctors during surgery to relieve Calista White from lifelong debilitating back pain.

Skull-Base Procedures

Skull-base tumors are considered among the most difficult to treat surgically because of their proximity to vital parts of the brain. Our neurosurgeons have extensive experience with craniofacial and skull-base surgical and microsurgical techniques and use advanced neuro-imaging tools to successfully treat patients with deep-seated tumors and vascular lesions.

Comprehensive Care

Through our multi-dimensional neuro-oncology program, we help people with brain and spinal tumors recover in all aspects of their lives—physical, physiological, psychological and emotional. Customized rehabilitation programs help patients manage pain and regain strength and functionality, and our unique psychology-oncology experts help people manage cognitive and lifestyle changes that can occur with treatment.

Learn more about brain tumors.