Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Together, the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). The brain controls thought, memory, movement, speech, vision, hearing, and more. The spinal cord is responsible for carrying messages between the brain and the rest of the body. A brain or spinal cord tumor is a mass formed by an abnormal growth of cells in the tissues of the brain or spinal cord. Tumors that begin in the CNS are known as primary tumors, while tumors that begin in another part of the body and travel to the CNS are known as secondary tumors. It is important to distinguish the difference between benign and malignant tumors. Benign tumors are non-cancerous and do not spread to nearby tissues or other distant areas. Malignant tumors are cancerous, and can spread to tissues throughout the body.

Causes and Risk Factors

The cause of most brain and spinal cord tumors is unknown, but there are certain risk factors to be aware of. Risk factors include:

  • Radiation exposure
  • Inherited or genetic conditions such as neurofibromatosis, Tuberous sclerosis, Von Hippel-Lindau disease, or Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a brain or spinal cord tumor may occur gradually and get worse over time, or they may happen suddenly. Your child’s symptoms will depend on the location and size of their tumor, and whether it effects the brain or the spinal cord. Common symptoms of a brain or spinal cord symptom include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in vision, hearing, or other senses
  • Problems with balance or movement
  • Changes in personality, mood, or behavior
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness or another change in energy levels

It is important to note that many of these symptoms can be caused by other health issues. It is important to meet with your child’s primary care provider to determine the cause.

Treatment

Treatment for brain or spinal cord tumors greatly depends on a variety of factors. Your child’s neurological team will come up with a personalized treatment plan based on their age, the size of their tumor, the location of their tumor, and more. Common treatment options include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy drugs
  • Surgery

There are several types of procedures that may be performed depending on your child’s tumor. Surgery is typically performed to take a sample of the tumor to learn more about it, to remove or destroy the tumor, or to help prevent or treat symptoms associated with the tumor.