About Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults

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Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults

Brain and spinal rope tumors are masses of anomalous cells in the cerebrum or spinal rope that have become out of control. In most different parts of the body, it is critical to recognize kindhearted (non-carcinogenic) tumors and threatening tumors (growths). Amiable tumors don’t develop into close-by tissues or spread to inaccessible territories, so in different parts of the body they are never perilous. One of the primary reasons harmful tumors are so unsafe is on the grounds that they can spread all through the body.

In spite of the fact that mind tumors once in a while spread to different parts of the body, the greater part of them can spread through the cerebrum tissue. Indeed, even supposed benevolent tumors can, as they develop, press on and demolish ordinary mind tissue, causing harm that is frequently crippling and once in a while lethal. Consequently, specialists as a rule discuss mind tumors as opposed to cerebrum malignancies. The principle worries with cerebrum and spinal rope tumors are the means by which promptly they spread through whatever remains of the mind or spinal rope and whether they can be expelled and not returned.

Cerebrum and spinal string tumors have a tendency to be distinctive in grown-ups and youngsters. They frequently shape in various territories, create from various cell composes, and may have an alternate standpoint and treatment.

Data on these sorts of tumors in kids is secured in Brain and Spinal String Tumors in Kids.

The central nervous system

To understand brain and spinal cord tumors, it helps to know about the normal structure and function of the central nervous system (CNS), which is the medical name for the brain and spinal cord. The brain is the center of thought, feeling, memory, speech, vision, hearing, movement, and much more. The spinal cord and special nerves in the head called cranial nerves help carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. These messages tell our muscles how to move, transmit information gathered by our senses, and help coordinate the functions of our internal organs. The brain is protected by the skull. Likewise, the spinal cord is protected by the bones (vertebrae) of the spinal column.

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded and cushioned by a special liquid, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Cerebrospinal fluid is made by the choroid plexus, which is found in spaces within the brain called ventricles. The ventricles and the spaces around the brain and spinal cord are filled with CSF.

Parts of the brain and spinal cord

The main areas of the brain include the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem. Each part has a special function.

Cerebrum: The cerebrum is the large, outer part of the brain. It has 2 hemispheres (halves) and controls reasoning, thought, emotion, and language. It is also responsible for planned (voluntary) muscle movements (throwing a ball, walking, chewing, etc.) and for taking in and interpreting sensory information such as vision, hearing, smell, touch, and pain.

The symptoms caused by a tumor in a cerebral hemisphere depend on where the tumor is. Common symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Trouble speaking
  • A change of mood such as depression
  • A change in personality
  • Weakness or paralysis in part of the body
  • Changes in vision, hearing, or other senses

Cerebellum: The cerebellum lies under the cerebrum at the back part of the brain. It helps coordinate movement. Tumors of the cerebellum can cause problems with coordination in walking, trouble with precise movements of hands, arms, feet, and legs, problems swallowing or synchronizing eye movements, and changes in speech rhythm.

Brain stem: The brain stem is the lower part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. It contains bundles of very long nerve fibers that carry signals controlling muscles and sensation or feeling between the cerebrum and the rest the body. Special centers in the brain stem also help control breathing and the beating of the heart. Also, most cranial nerves (see illustration below) start in the brain stem.

Tumors in this critical area of the brain can cause weakness, stiff muscles, or problems with sensation, facial or eye movement, hearing, or swallowing. Double vision is a common early symptom of brain stem tumors, as are problems with coordination in walking. Because the brain stem is a small area that is so essential for life, it might not be possible to surgically remove tumors in this area.

Cranial nerves: The cranial nerves extend directly out of the base of the brain (as opposed to coming out of the spinal cord). These nerves carry signals directly between the brain and the face, eyes, tongue, mouth, and some other areas.

Tumors starting in cranial nerves can cause vision problems, trouble swallowing, hearing loss in one or both ears, or facial paralysis, numbness, or pain.

Spinal cord: The spinal cord has bundles of very long nerve fibers that carry signals that control muscles, sensation or feeling, and bladder and bowel control. Spinal cord tumors can cause weakness, paralysis, or numbness. The spinal cord is a narrow structure, so tumors within it usually cause symptoms on both sides of the body (for example, weakness or numbness of both legs). This is different from most brain tumors, which often affect only one side of the body.

The nerves that reach the arms begin in the spinal cord at the level of the neck (cervical spine). Nerves that branch off the spinal cord to the legs, bowel, and bladder arise in the back (thoracic and lumbar spine). Most tumors of the spinal cord start in the neck and can cause symptoms in the arms and legs, as well as affect bowel and bladder function. Spinal cord tumors below the neck only affect the legs and bowel and bladder function.

Types of cells and body tissues in the brain and spinal cord

Neurons (nerve cells): These are the cells in the brain that help determine thought, memory, emotion, speech, muscle movement, sensation, and just about everything else that the brain and spinal cord do. They do this by transmitting chemical and electrical signals through their nerve fibers (axons). Axons in the brain tend to be short, while those in the spinal cord can be as long as several feet.

Unlike many other types of cells that can grow and divide to repair damage from injury or disease, neurons in the brain and spinal cord largely stop dividing about a year after birth (with a few exceptions). Neurons do not usually form tumors, but they are often damaged by tumors that start nearby.

Glial cells: Glial cells are the supporting cells of the brain. Most brain and spinal cord tumors develop from glial cells. These tumors are sometimes referred to as gliomas.

There are 3 types of glial cells – astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells. A fourth cell type called microglia is part of the immune system and is not truly a glial cell.

  • Astrocytes help support and nourish neurons. When the brain is injured, astrocytes form scar tissue that helps repair the damage. The main tumors starting in these cells are called astrocytomasor glioblastomas.
  • Oligodendrocytes make myelin, a fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve cell axons of the brain and spinal cord. This helps neurons send electric signals through the axons. Tumors starting in these cells are called oligodendrogliomas.
  • Ependymal cellsline the ventricles (fluid-filled areas) within the brain and form part of the pathway through which CSF flows. Tumors starting in these cells are called ependymomas.
  • Microglia are the immune (infection-fighting) cells of the central nervous system.

Neuroectodermal cells: These are very early forms of nervous system cells that are probably involved in brain cell development. They are found throughout the brain, although they are not often seen in the adult central nervous system. The most common tumors that come from these cells develop in the cerebellum and are called medulloblastomas.

Meninges: These are layers of tissue that line and protect the brain and spinal cord. CSF travels through spaces formed by the meninges. The most common tumors that start in these tissues are called meningiomas.

Choroid plexus: The choroid plexus is the area of the brain within the ventricles that makes CSF, which nourishes and protects the brain.

Pituitary gland and hypothalamus: The pituitary is a small gland at the base of the brain. It is connected to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Both make hormones that help regulate the activity of several other glands in the body. For example, they control the amount of thyroid hormone made by the thyroid gland, breast milk production and release, and the amount of male or female hormones made by the testicles or ovaries. They also make growth hormone, which stimulates body growth, and vasopressin, which regulates water balance by the kidneys.

The growth of tumors in or near the pituitary or hypothalamus, as well as surgery and/or radiation therapy in this area, can affect these functions. For example, tumors starting in the pituitary gland sometimes make too much of a certain hormone, which can cause problems. On the other hand, a person may have low levels of one or more hormones after treatment and may need to take hormones to make up for this. Pineal gland: The pineal gland is not really part of the brain. It is a small endocrine gland that sits between the cerebral hemispheres. It makes melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, in response to changes in light. The most common tumors of the pineal gland are called pineoblastomas.

Blood-brain barrier: The inner lining of the small blood vessels (capillaries) in the brain and spinal cord creates a very selective barrier between the blood and the tissues of the central nervous system. This barrier normally helps maintain the brain’s metabolic balance and keeps harmful toxins from getting into the brain. Unfortunately, it also keeps out most chemotherapy drugs that are used to kill cancer cells, which in some cases limits their usefulness.

Types of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults

Tumors that start in the brain (primary brain tumors) are not the same as tumors that start in other organs, such as the lung or breast, and then spread to the brain (metastatic or secondary brain tumors). In adults, metastatic tumors to the brain are actually more common than primary brain tumors. These tumors are not treated the same way. For example, breast or lung cancers that spread to the brain are treated differently from tumors that start in the brain.

Unlike cancers that start in other parts of the body, tumors that start in the brain or spinal cord rarely spread to distant organs. Even so, brain or spinal cord tumors are rarely considered benign (non-cancerous). They can still cause damage by growing and spreading into nearby areas, where they can destroy normal brain tissue. And unless they are completely removed or destroyed, most brain or spinal cord tumors will continue to grow and eventually be life-threatening.

 Primary brain tumors can start in almost any type of tissue or cell in the brain or spinal cord. Some tumors have mixed cell types. Tumors in different areas of the central nervous system (CNS) may be treated differently and have a different prognosis (outlook).

Brain and spinal cord tumor grades

Some brain and spinal cord tumors are more likely to grow into nearby tissues (and to grow quickly) than are other tumors. The World Health Organization (WHO) divides brain and spinal cord tumors into 4 grades (using Roman numerals I to IV), based largely on how the cells look under the microscope:

Grade I: These tumors typically grow slowly and do not grow into (invade or infiltrate) nearby tissues. They can often be cured with surgery.

Grade II: These tumors also tend to grow slowly but they can grow into nearby brain tissue. They are more likely to come back after surgery than grade I tumors. They are also more likely to become faster-growing tumors over time.

Grade III: These tumors look more abnormal under the microscope. They can grow into nearby brain tissue and are more likely to need other treatments in addition to surgery.

Grade IV: These are the fastest growing tumors. They generally require the most aggressive treatment.

Gliomas

Gliomas are not a specific type of brain tumor. Glioma is a general term for tumors that start in glial cells. A number of tumors can be considered gliomas, including:

Astrocytomas (which include glioblastomas)

Oligodendrogliomas

Ependymomas

About 3 out of 10 of all brain tumors are gliomas. Most fast-growing brain tumors are gliomas.

Astrocytomas

Astrocytomas are tumors that start in glial cells called astrocytes. About 2 out of 10 brain tumors are astrocytomas.

Most astrocytomas can spread widely throughout the brain and blend with the normal brain tissue, which can make them very hard to remove with surgery. Sometimes they spread along the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pathways. It is very rare for them to spread outside of the brain or spinal cord.

Astrocytomas (like other brain tumors) are classified into 4 grades.

Non-infiltrating (grade I) astrocytomas do not usually grow into nearby tissues and tend to have a good prognosis. These include pilocytic astrocytomas and subependymal giant cell astrocytomas (SEGAs). They are more common in children than in adults. Low-grade (grade II) astrocytomas, such as diffuse astrocytomas, tend to be slow growing, but they can grow into nearby areas and can become more aggressive and fast growing over time.

Anaplastic (grade III) astrocytomas grow more quickly.

Glioblastomas (grade IV) are the fastest growing. These tumors make up more than half of all gliomas and are the most common malignant brain tumors in adults.

Oligodendrogliomas

These tumors start in brain glial cells called oligodendrocytes. These are grade II tumors that tend to grow slowly. Most of these can grow into (infiltrate) nearby brain tissue and cannot be removed completely by surgery. Oligodendrogliomas sometimes spread along the CSF pathways but rarely spread outside the brain or spinal cord. As with astrocytomas, they can become more aggressive over time. Very aggressive (grade III) forms of these tumors are known as anaplastic oligodendrogliomas. Only about 2% of brain tumors are oligodendrogliomas.

Ependymomas

These tumors start in ependymal cells, which line the ventricles. They can range from fairly low-grade (grade II) tumors to higher grade (grade III) tumors, which are called anaplastic ependymomas. Only about 2% of brain tumors are ependymomas.  Ependymomas are more likely to spread along the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pathways than other gliomas but do not spread outside the brain or spinal cord. Ependymomas may block the exit of CSF from the ventricles, causing the ventricles to become very large – a condition called hydrocephalus.

Unlike astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas usually do not grow into normal brain tissue. As a result, some (but not all) ependymomas can be removed completely and cured by surgery. But because they can spread along ependymal surfaces and CSF pathways, treating them can sometimes be difficult. Spinal cord ependymomas have the greatest chance of being cured with surgery, but treatment can cause side effects related to nerve damage.

Meningiomas

Meningiomas begin in the meninges, the layers of tissue that surround the outer part of the brain and spinal cord. Meningiomas account for about 1 out of 3 primary brain and spinal cord tumors. They are the most common brain tumors in adults (although strictly speaking, they are not actually brain tumors).

The risk of these tumors increases with age. They occur about twice as often in women. Sometimes these tumors run in families, especially in those with neurofibromatosis, a syndrome in which people develop many benign tumors of nerve tissue. Meningiomas are often assigned a grade, based on how the cells look under the microscope.

Grade I (benign) meningiomas have cells that look the most like normal cells. They account for about 8 of 10 meningiomas. Most of these can be cured by surgery, but some grow very close to vital structures in the brain or cranial nerves and cannot be cured by surgery alone.

Grade II (atypical or invasive) meningiomas usually have cells that look slightly more abnormal. They make up about 15% to 20% of meningiomas. They can grow directly into nearby brain tissue and bone and are more likely to come back (recur) after surgery. Grade III (anaplastic or malignant) meningiomas have cells that look the most abnormal. They make up only about 1% to 3% of meningiomas. They tend to grow quickly, can grow into nearby brain tissue and bone, and are the most likely to come back after treatment. Some may even spread to other parts of the body.

Medulloblastomas

Medulloblastomas develop from neuroectodermal cells (early forms of nerve cells) in the cerebellum. They are fast-growing (grade IV) tumors and often spread throughout the CSF pathways, but they can be treated by surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Medulloblastomas occur much more often in children than in adults. They are part of a class of tumors called embryonal tumors that can also start in other parts of the central nervous system. They are discussed in more detail in Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children.

Gangliogliomas

Gangliogliomas contain both neurons and glial cells. These tumors are very uncommon in adults. They are typically slow growing (grade II) tumors and can usually be cured by surgery alone or surgery combined with radiation therapy.

Schwannomas (neurilemmomas)

Schwannomas develop from Schwann cells, which surround and insulate cranial nerves and other nerves. They make up about 8% of all CNS tumors.

Schwannomas are almost always benign (grade I) tumors. They can arise from any cranial nerve. When they form on the cranial nerve responsible for hearing and balance near the cerebellum they are called vestibular schwannomas or acoustic neuromas. They can also start on spinal nerves after the point where they have left the spinal cord. When this happens, they can press on the spinal cord, causing weakness, sensory loss, and bowel and bladder problems.

Craniopharyngiomas

These slow-growing (grade I) tumors start above the pituitary gland but below the brain itself. They may press on the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, causing hormone problems. Because they start very close to the optic nerves, they can also cause vision problems. Their tendency to stick to these important structures can make them hard to remove completely without damaging vision or hormone balance. Craniopharyngiomas are more common in children, but they are sometimes seen in adults.

Other tumors that can start in or near the brain

Chordomas

These rare tumors start in the bone at the base of the skull or at the lower end of the spine. Chordomas don’t start in the central nervous system, but they can injure the nearby brain or spinal cord by pressing on it.

These tumors are treated with surgery if possible, often followed by radiation therapy, but they tend to come back in the same area after treatment, causing more damage. They usually do not spread to other organs. For more information on chordomas, see Bone Cancer.

Non-Hodgkin lymphomas

Lymphomas are cancers that start in white blood cells called lymphocytes (one of the main cell types of the immune system). Most lymphomas start in other parts of the body, but some start in the CNS, and are called primary CNS lymphomas. These lymphomas are more common in people with immune system problems, such as those infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Because of new treatments for AIDS, primary CNS lymphomas have become less common in recent years.

These lymphomas often grow quickly and can be hard to treat. Recent advances in chemotherapy, however, have improved the outlook for people with these cancers. For more information on primary CNS lymphomas (including treatment), see Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Pituitary tumors

Tumors that start in the pituitary gland are almost always benign (non-cancerous). But they can still cause problems if they grow large enough to press on nearby structures or if they make too much of any kind of hormone. For more information, see Pituitary Tumors.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as a brain or spinal cord tumor. Different types of cancer have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, you can change. Others, like your age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several, does not always mean that a person will get the disease, and many people get tumors without having any known risk factors. Most brain tumors are not linked with any known risk factors and have no obvious cause. But there are a few factors that can raise the risk of brain tumors.

Radiation exposure

The best known environmental risk factor for brain tumors is radiation exposure, most often from radiation therapy to treat some other condition. For example, before the risks of radiation were known, children with ringworm of the scalp (a fungal infection) were sometimes treated with low-dose radiation therapy, which was later found to increase their risk of brain tumors as they got older.

Today, most radiation-induced brain tumors are caused by radiation to the head given to treat other cancers. They occur most often in people who received radiation to the brain as children as part of their treatment for leukemia. These brain tumors usually develop around 10 to 15 years after the radiation. Radiation-induced tumors are still fairly rare, but because of the increased risk (as well as the other side effects), radiation therapy is only given to the head after carefully weighing the possible benefits and risks. For most patients with other cancers involving the brain or head, the benefits of radiation therapy far outweigh the risk of developing a brain tumor years later.

The possible risk from exposure to imaging tests that use radiation, such as x-rays or CT scans, is not known for sure. These tests use much lower levels of radiation than those used in radiation treatments, so if there is any increase in risk, it is likely to be very small. But to be safe, most doctors recommend that people (especially children and pregnant women) not get these tests unless they are clearly needed.

Family history

Most people with brain tumors do not have a family history of the disease, but in rare cases brain and spinal cord cancers run in families. In general, patients with familial cancer syndromes tend to have many tumors that first occur when they are young. Some of these families have well-defined disorders, such as:

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)

This genetic disorder, also known as von Recklinghausen disease, is the most common syndrome linked to brain or spinal cord tumors. People with this condition have higher risks of schwannomas, meningiomas, and certain types of gliomas, as well as neurofibromas (benign tumors of peripheral nerves). Changes in the NF1 gene cause this disorder. These changes are inherited from a parent in about half of all cases. In the other half, the NF1 gene changes occur before birth in people whose parents did not have this condition.

Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2)

This condition, which is much less common than NF1, is associated with vestibular schwannomas (acoustic neuromas), which almost always occur on both sides of the head. It is also linked with an increased risk of meningiomas or spinal cord ependymomas. Changes in the NF2 gene are usually responsible for neurofibromatosis type 2. Like NF1, the gene changes are inherited in about half of cases. In the other half, they occur before birth in children without a family history.

Tuberous sclerosis

People with this condition may have subependymal giant cell astrocytomas (SEGAs), which are low-grade astrocytomas that develop beneath the ependymal cells of the ventricles. They may also have other benign tumors of the brain, skin, heart, kidneys, and other organs. This condition is caused by changes in either the TSC1 or the TSC2 gene. These gene changes can be inherited from a parent, but most often they develop in people without a family history.

Von Hippel-Lindau disease

People with this condition tend to develop benign or cancerous tumors in different parts of the body, including hemangioblastomas (benign blood vessel tumors) in the brain, spinal cord, or retina, as well as tumors of the inner ear, kidney, adrenal gland, and pancreas. It is caused by changes in the VHL gene. Most often the gene changes are inherited, but in some cases the changes happen before birth in people whose parents don’t have them.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

People with this condition are at higher risk for developing gliomas, along with breast cancer, soft tissue sarcomas, leukemia, adrenal gland cancer, and certain other types of cancer. It is caused by changes in the TP53 gene.

Other syndromes

Other inherited conditions are also linked with increased risks of certain types of brain and spinal cord tumors, including:

  • Gorlin syndrome (basal cell nevus syndrome)
  • Turcot syndrome
  • Cowden syndrome

Some families may have genetic disorders that are not well recognized or that may even be unique to a particular family.

Symptoms

General symptoms

  • Tumors in any part of the brain may cause the pressure inside the skull (known as intracranial pressure) to rise. This can be caused by growth of the tumor itself, swelling in the brain, or blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Increased pressure can lead to general symptoms such as:
  • Headaches – Headaches that tend to get worse over time are a common symptom of brain tumors, occurring in about half of patients. (Of course, most headaches are not caused by tumors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Balance problems
  • Personality or behavior changes
  • Seizures – As many as half of people with brain tumors will have seizures at some point. The type of seizure may depend on where the tumor is. Sometimes this is the first sign of a brain tumor, but fewer than 1 in 10 first seizures are caused by brain tumors
  • Drowsiness or even coma

Symptoms of tumors in different parts of the central nervous system

Brain and spinal cord tumors often cause problems with the specific functions of the region they develop in. But these symptoms can be caused by any disease in that particular location — they do not always mean a person has a brain or spinal cord tumor. The brain also controls functions of some other organs, so brain tumors can cause other symptoms that aren’t listed here.

  • Tumors in the parts of the cerebrum (the large outer part of the brain) which controls movement or sensation can cause weakness or numbness of part of the body, often on just one side
  • Tumors in or near the parts of the cerebrum responsible for language can cause problems with speech or even understanding words
  • Tumors in the front part of the cerebrum can sometimes affect thinking, personality, and language
  • Tumors in the back part of the cerebrum, or around the pituitary gland, the optic nerve, or certain other cranial nerves can cause vision problems
  • Tumors in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia typically cause abnormal movements and an abnormal positioning of the body.

Tumors in the cerebellum, which controls coordination, can cause a person to have trouble with walking or other everyday functions, even eating

  • Tumors in or near other cranial nerves might lead to loss of hearing, balance problems, weakness of some facial muscles, or trouble swallowing
  • Spinal cord tumors can cause numbness, weakness, or lack of coordination in the arms and/or legs (usually on both sides of the body), as well as bladder or bowel problems

Causes

The cause of most brain and spinal cord tumors is not fully understood, and there are very few well-established risk factors. But researchers have found some of the changes that occur in normal brain cells that may lead them to form brain tumors.

Normal human cells grow and function based mainly on the information contained in each cell’s DNA. Brain and spinal cord tumors, like other tumors, are caused by changes in the DNA inside cells. DNA is the chemical that makes up our genes, which control how our cells function. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than how we look.

Some genes control when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die:

  • Certain genes that help cells grow, divide, and stay alive are called oncogenes.
  • Genes that help keep cell division under control, or make cells die at the right time, are called tumor suppressor genes.

Cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes. These gene changes can be inherited from a parent, but more often they happen during a person’s lifetime.

Gene changes acquired during a person’s lifetime

Most often, it’s not known why people without inherited syndromes develop brain or spinal cord tumors. Most exposures that cause cancer somehow damage DNA. For example, tobacco smoke is a risk factor for lung cancer and several other cancers because it contains chemicals that can damage the genes inside cells. The brain is relatively protected from tobacco smoke and other cancer-causing chemicals that we might breathe in or eat, so these factors are not likely to play a major role in these cancers.

Several different gene changes usually occur in normal cells before they become cancerous. There are many kinds of brain tumors, each of which may have different sets of gene changes. A number of gene changes have been found in different brain tumor types, but there are probably many others that have not yet been found.

Researchers now understand some of the gene changes that occur in different types of brain tumors, but it’s still not clear what causes most of these changes. Some gene changes might be inherited, but most brain and spinal cord tumors are not the result of known inherited syndromes. Other than radiation, no known lifestyle-related or environmental factors are clearly linked to brain tumors. Most gene changes are probably just random events that sometimes happen inside a cell, without having an outside cause.

Prevention

The risk of many cancers in adults can be reduced with certain lifestyle changes (such as staying at a healthy weight or quitting smoking). But other than radiation exposure, there are no known lifestyle-related or environmental risk factors for brain and spinal cord tumors, so at this time there is no known way to protect against most of these tumors.

For most people with other types of cancer in or near the head, radiation therapy may be given if doctors feel the benefits outweigh the small risk of developing a brain tumor years later. Still, when it is needed, doctors try to limit the dose of radiation as much as possible.

Imaging tests such as x-rays or CT scans use much lower levels of radiation than those used for cancer treatment. If there is any increase in risk from these tests, it is likely to be very small, but to be safe, most doctors recommend that people (especially pregnant women and children) not get these tests unless they are absolutely needed.

Treatment

Brain and spinal cord tumors can be hard to treat and may require care from a team of different types of doctors. This team is often led by a neurosurgeon, and other doctors on the team may include neurologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, endocrinologists. Other healthcare professionals like physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, may work on your case as well.

Several types of treatment are used to treat brain and spinal cord tumors, including:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy – At the St. Mary Neurosciences Center, radiation oncology is a crucial component of the care we provide to patients who are diagnosed with tumors in the brain or spine, brain malformations, or nervous system disorders. Our collaborative approach between neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists offers patients many effective treatment options
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy – As researchers have learned more about the inner workings of cells that cause cancer or help cancer cells grow, they have developed newer drugs that specifically target these mechanisms. These targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs. They sometimes work when chemo drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects. These drugs don’t yet play a large role in treating brain or spinal cord tumors, but some of them may be helpful for certain types of tumors
  • Other types of drugs – Some drugs commonly used in people with brain tumors do not treat the tumors directly, but they may help lessen symptoms from the tumor or its treatment. Examples are corticosteroids, anti-seizure drugs, and hormones

Treatment is based on the type of tumor and other factors, and often more than one type of treatment is used. Doctors plan each person’s treatment individually to give them the best chance of treating the cancer while limiting the side effects as much as possible.

  • It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options (as well as their possible side effects) with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. If you have any questions, ask to have them explained
  • It’s often a good idea to get a second opinion from a doctor experienced with your type of tumor. That can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

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