Neurology Associates, P.C.

Brain Tumor

Brain Tumor

An adult brain tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain.

There are many types of brain and spinal cord tumors. The tumors are formed by the abnormal growth of cells and may begin in different parts of the brain or spinal cord. Together, the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS).

The tumors may be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer):

  • Benign brain and spinal cord tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain. They rarely spread into other tissues and may recur (come back).
  • Malignant brain and spinal cord tumors are likely to grow quickly and spread into other brain tissue.

When a tumor grows into or presses on an area of the brain, it may stop that part of the brain from working the way it should. Both benign and malignant brain tumors cause symptoms and need treatment.

Brain and spinal cord tumors can occur in both adults and children. However, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults.

Tumors that start in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors may spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine. They rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Often, tumors found in the brain have started somewhere else in the body and spread to one or more parts of the brain. These are called metastatic brain tumors (or brain metastases).Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors.

About half of metastatic brain tumors are from lung cancer. Other types of cancer that commonly spread to the brain are melanoma and cancer of the breast, colon, kidney, nasopharynx, and unknown primary site. Leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer may spread to the leptomeninges (the two innermost membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). This is called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis.

Risk Factors for Developing Brain Tumors

The cause of most adult brain and spinal cord tumors is unknown.Having certain genetic syndromes may affect the risk of a brain tumor.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. There are few known risk factors for brain tumors. The following conditions may increase the risk of certain types of brain tumors:

  • Being exposed to vinyl chloride may increase the risk of glioma.
  • Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, having AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), or receiving an organ transplant may increase the risk of primary CNS lymphoma.

Having certain genetic syndromes may increase the risk brain tumors:

  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) or 2 (NF2).
  • von Hippel-Lindau disease.
  • Tuberous sclerosis.
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
  • Turcot syndrome type 1 or 2.
  • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome.

Treatment Options and Prognosis

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options for primary brain and spinal cord tumors depend on the following:

  • The type and grade of the tumor.
  • Where the tumor is in the brain or spinal cord.
  • Whether the tumor can be removed by surgery.
  • Whether cancer cells remain after surgery.
  • Whether there are certain changes in the chromosomes.
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).
  • The patient's general health.

The prognosis and treatment options for metastatic brain and spinal cord tumors depend on the following:

  • Whether there are more than two tumors in the brain or spinal cord.
  • Where the tumor is in the brain or spinal cord.
  • How well the tumor responds to treatment.
  • Whether the primary tumor continues to grow or spread.

Reference: National Cancer Institute (NCI)