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There are many types of brain and spinal cord tumours. The tumours 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 tumours may be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer):
When a tumour 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 tumours cause symptoms and need treatment.Brain and spinal cord tumours can occur in both adults and children. However, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults. A brain tumour that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain is called a metastatic tumour.tumours that start in the brain are called primary brain tumours. Primary brain tumours may spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine. They rarely spread to other parts of the body.Often, tumours 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 tumours (or brain metastases). Metastatic brain tumours are more common than primary brain tumours.About half of metastatic brain tumours 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).
The brain has three major parts:
(1) Anatomy of the brain, showing the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and other parts of the brain. (2) Anatomy of the inside of the brain, showing the pineal and pituitary glands, optic nerve, ventricles (with cerebrospinal fluid shown in blue), and other parts of the brain.
The spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue that runs from the brain stem down the center of the back. It is covered by three thin layers of tissue called membranes. These membranes are surrounded by the vertebrae (back bones). Spinal cord nerves carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, such as a signal from the brain that makes muscles move or a signal from the skin to the brain that it senses heat.
Brain and spinal cord tumours are named based on the type of cell they formed in and where the tumour first formed in the CNS. The grade of a tumour may be used to tell the difference between slow-growing and fast-growing types of the tumour. The grade of a tumour is based on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the tumour is likely to grow and spread.
The following types of tumours can form in the brain or spinal cord:
An astrocytic tumour begins in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell. Glial cells sometimes form tumours called gliomas. Astrocytic tumours include the following:
An oligodendroglial tumour begins in brain cells called oligodendrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. An oligodendrocyte is a type of glial cell. Oligodendrocytes sometimes form tumours called oligodendrogliomas. Grades of oligodendroglial tumours include the following:
A ganglioglioma is a rare type of brain tumor, accounting for approximately 1% of all brain tumors. Gangliogliomas occur when a single cell in the brain starts to divide into more cells, forming a tumor. This can occur when the cell randomly acquires changes (mutations) in genes that regulate how a cell divides. Most gangliogliomas grow slowly and are considered benign. However, up to 10% of gangliogliomas may grow more rapidly and become malignant, meaning the tumor affects the surrounding brain tissue. The main treatment for ganglioglioma is removal of the entire tumor during surgery. If the entire tumor is not removed, it has the potential to recur and may require additional surgery or treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Unfortunately, because gangliogliomas are quite rare, there is limited information to show that radiation therapy or chemotherapy are effective treatments for this condition.
A mixed glioma is a brain tumour that has two types of tumour cells in it — oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. This type of mixed tumour is called an oligoastrocytoma.
An ependymal tumour usually begins in cells that line the fluid -filled spaces in the brain and around the spinal cord. An ependymal tumour may also be called an ependymoma. Grades of ependymomas include the following:
A medulloblastoma is a type of embryonal tumour. Medulloblastomas are most common in children or young adults.
A pineal parenchymal tumour forms in parenchymal cells or pineocytes, which are the cells that make up most of the pineal gland. These tumours are different from pineal astrocytic tumours. Grades of pineal parenchymal tumours include the following:
A meningeal tumour, also called a meningioma, forms in the meninges (thin layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord). It can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells. Meningiomas are most common in adults. Types of meningeal tumours include the following:
A germ cell tumour forms in germ cells, which are the cells that develop into sperm in men or ova (eggs) in women. There are different types of germ cell tumours. These include:
Germ cell tumours can be either benign or malignant.
A craniopharyngioma is a rare tumour that usually forms just above the pituitary gland (a pea-sized organ at the bottom of the brain that controls other glands). Craniopharyngiomas can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells. They begin in the center of the brain, just above the back of the nose.
A recurrent brain tumour is a tumour that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. Brain tumours often recur, sometimes many years after the first tumour. The tumour may recur at the same place in the brain or in other parts of the central nervous system.
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 tumours. The following conditions may increase the risk of certain types of brain tumours:
The symptoms caused by a primary brain tumour depend on where the tumour begins in the brain, what that part of the brain controls, and the size of the tumour. Headaches and other symptoms may be caused by brain tumours. Other conditions, including cancer that has spread to the brain, may cause the same symptoms. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
The following tests and procedures may be used:
If imaging tests show there may be a brain tumour, a biopsy is usually done. One of the following types of biopsies may be used:
Craniotomy: An opening is made in the skull and a piece of the skull is removed to show part of the brain.
The pathologist checks the biopsy sample to find out the type and grade of brain tumour. The grade of the tumour is based on how the tumour cells look under a microscope and how quickly the tumour is likely to grow and spread.
The following tests may be done on the tumour tissue that is removed:
For some tumours, a biopsy or surgery cannot be done safely because of where the tumour formed in the brain or spinal cord. These tumours are diagnosed and treated based on the results of imaging tests and other procedures.Sometimes the results of imaging tests and other procedures show that the tumour is very likely to be benign and a biopsy is not done.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options for primary brain and spinal cord tumours depend on the following:
For more information on Brain Cancer click here
This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.
For information courtesy of cancer Australia, please click here
Page last updated: 18/08/2021