Brain & Spinal Cord Cancers

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About Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers

There is a lot to konw about brain and spinal cord cancers. Your doctors will work closely with you to help you understand what is happening to you and how you are going to be treated for your disease. But, to help your general understanding, you can read more about

About Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers

The American Cancer Society estimates about 21,000 people will be diagnosed with a primary brain or spinal cord cancer each year. According to the World Health Organization, there are over 100 types of brain and spinal cord cancers. And, the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute estimate there will be over 13,000 deaths this year from primary brain and spinal cord cancers.

The cell origin gives the cancer its name. For instance, a cancer that starts in the meninges is called a meningioma.

According to the National Cancer Institute, malignant glioma is the most common primary brain cancer. Malignant glioma accounts for over half of brain cancers diagnosed each year.

There are estimates of 100,000 new diagnoses of secondary (metastatic) brain cancers each year.

Brain cancers are most common in middle-aged and older adults. Spinal cord cancers are uncommon and occur less often than brain cancers (one-tenth to one-fifteenth as often).

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates 10,000 new diagnoses of primary and metastatic spinal cord cancers each year. Spinal cord cancers are most common in young and middle-aged adults.

Terms Used to Describe Brain and Spine Cancers

Cancer – Cancer is defined as cells that grow out of control and invade healthy tissue. These cells tend to grow beyond where growth started. Cancer cells sometimes spread to other parts of the body, though this rarely occurs with brain and spinal cord cancers. When cancer cells spread this is called metastasis.

Tumor – A tumor is formed by cells that grow out of control. A tumor can be benign or malignant (cancerous), which can be determined by a pathologist looking at cells under a microscope. Tumor cells are usually obtained when a tumor is removed during surgery. Tumor cells can also be obtained by a biopsy. A biopsy is done by making a small incision into the skull or spine and taking out a piece of the tumor. Sometimes cancers are referred to as tumors. However, tumor refers to any mass in the brain or spine and is not necessarily a cancer.

Benign – Slow-growing tumors with relatively distinct borders. These tumors rarely spread. Surgery and sometimes radiotherapy is used to treat this kind of cancer.

Malignant – A cancer that grows either slow or fast and invades the brain or spinal cord. Under the microscope, malignant cells look abnormal. Malignant cancers may return after treatment. Treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, and often chemotherapy.

Primary – A primary cancer is located in the site where it began. For example, a primary brain cancer is a cancer that originates in the brain.

Secondary or Metastatic – A metastatic cancer is a cancer that spreads to the brain or spine from an organ outside the brain or spinal cord. The most common cancers that spread to the brain are lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma. Metastatic cancers are malignant.

Symptoms - There are many symptoms for brain and spinal cord cancers, but these symptoms may be related to other diseases. Brain and spinal cord cancers cause a wide variety of symptoms which can result from the pressure or infiltration of the cancer on healthy tissue. This occurs in part because of the confined spaces that house the brain and spinal cord. Both are contained by bone structures.