Brain and Spinal Tumors

What are Brain and Spinal Tumors?

A brain tumor is a lump of tissue caused by abnormal and/or uncontrolled cell growth. Brain tumors emerge from the various cells that comprise the brain and central nervous system and are named for the cell type from which they form.

Tumors may arise from the cells that surround and nourish the nerve cells called glial or astrocyte cells; from nerve cell tissue; from the membranes that surround the brain called the meninges; from lymphoid tissue; or from germ cells (similar to stem cells) which can become any of the other types of cells. There are also tumors which are a combination of two or more of these tissues. The type of tissue determines the name of the tumor. There are more than 120 types of brain tumors that exist.

Each brain tumor is also classified with a number of 1-4 expressed as a Roman numeral (I-IV). This is a measure of a tumor’s malignancy. This is used to predict the biologic behavior of the tumor, response to treatment and projected prognosis of an individual.

  • Grade I tumors are benign; have fewer cell abnormalities; stay within a circumscribed area; show less evidence of rapid proliferation of cells; and have the greatest chance of positive outcome.
  • Grade II tumors have cells that resemble Grade I tumor cells, but a Grade II tumor tends to extend throughout a larger area of the brain, making it more difficult to attack these tumors surgically. Grade II tumors tend to recur and may also progress to more malignant stages.
  • Grade III tumors are malignant and cannot be cured by surgery alone.
  • Grade IV tumors are aggressively malignant. Not every tumor type starts as a Grade I and advances upward through the four stages. Tumors can be a Grade III or IV early on in the disease because of the characteristics of abnormal cell growth.

Additional factors that affect brain tumor outcome include a patient’s age and neurologic symptoms, tumor location, responsiveness to treatment and the success of surgical removal. In addition, genetic markers for various tumors can be tested to help predict the responsiveness of a tumor to different therapy options.

Spinal cord tumors are rarer than brain tumors, but are similarly classified by the cell type from which they arise. When tumors occur in the spinal cord, they often signal very late stages of the primary cancer – most commonly either lung or breast cancer.

Symptoms and Detection

When a brain tumor is suspected, many different tests are used to confirm the diagnosis. Your primary care physician may order some of the tests themselves and based on the results, refer you to our specialists. By coming to Baptist Health, you can be confident that all of the right tests will be done quickly and with great expertise from years of experience and advanced training. Our specialists ensure that your treatment begins with the correct and accurate diagnosis, and that you understand it clearly.

Symptoms indicating a brain tumor vary, but are determined largely by increased pressure inside the skull due to tumor growth or swelling at the location of the tumor.

Common symptoms include

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Mental status changes
  • Symptoms specific to the area of the brain affected by the tumor such as motor weakness, speech difficulties or memory changes

Diagnosis is most often made via MRI followed by either a biopsy of the tumor and/or biopsy at the time of surgical removal of the tumor. This will allow the doctor to learn more about the cause of the tumor and type of tumor to be able to prescribe a post-surgical treatment plan.

Our team is committed to guiding and supporting our patients and families through the diagnosis, treatment and recovery process for brain tumors.

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