Tumors of the brain and spinal cord are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the skull or the bony spinal column. The brain and spinal cord are the primary components of the central nervous system (CNS). Benign tumors are noncancerous, and malignant tumors are cancerous. The CNS is housed within rigid, bony quarters (i.e., the skull and spinal column), so any abnormal growth, whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on sensitive tissues and impair function. Tumors that originate in the brain or spinal cord are called primary tumors. Most primary tumors are caused by out-of-control growth among cells that surround and support neuron, specific genetic disease (such as neurofibromatosis type 1 and tuberous sclerosis), or from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. Metastatic, or secondary, tumors in the CNS are caused by cancer cells that break away from a primary tumor located in another region of the body. Tumors can place pressure on sensitive tissues and impair function..Symptoms of brain tumors include headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting, poor vision or hearing, changes in behavior, unclear thinking, and unsteadiness. Spinal cord tumor symptoms include pain, numbness, and paralysis. Diagnosis is made after a neurological examination, special imaging techniques (computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography), laboratory tests, and a biopsy (in which a sample of tissue is taken from a suspected tumor and examined).
The three most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Doctors also may prescribe steroids to reduce the tumor-related swelling inside the CNS.
Symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors generally develop slowly and worsen over time unless they are treated. The tumor may be classified as benign or malignant and given a numbered score that reflects its rate of malignancy. This score can help doctors determine how to treat the tumor and predict the likely outcome, or prognosis, for the individual.
Scientists continue to investigate ways to better understand, diagnose, and treat CNS tumors. Experimental treatment options may include new drugs, gene therapy, surgery , radiation, biologic modulators that enhance the body's overall immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells, and a combination of therapies. Of particular interest to scientists is the development of tailored therapeutics--involving a combination of targeted agents that use different molecules to reduce tumor gene activity and suppress uncontrolled growth by killing or reducing the production of tumor cells--to treat tumors based on their genetic makeup. Researchers continue to search for additional clinical biomarkers (molecules or other substances in the blood or tissue that can be used to diagnose or monitor a particular disorder) of CNS tumors. Other researchers are testing different drugs and molecules to see if they can modulate the normal activity of the blood-brain barrier and better target tumor cells and associated blood vessels. Also under investigation are ways to improve drug delivery to the tumor and to prevent the side-effects of cancer treatments. Information from the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlusBrain Tumors
Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation
20312 Watkins Meadow Drive
Germantown, MD 20876
Non-profit organization that raises funds for scientific and clinical research to improve both prognosis and quality of life for those affected by pediatric brain tumors. Works to heighten public awareness and provides information and resources for families and patients.
Children's Brain Tumor Foundation
New York, NY 10036
Works to improve the treatment, quality of life, and long-term outlook for children with brain and spinal cord tumors through research, support, education, and advocacy programs.
Cushing's Support and Research Foundation
60 Robbins, #12
Plymouth, MA 02360
Provides information and support for Cushing's Disease and Cushing's Syndrome patients and their families and works to increase awareness and educate the public.
Hope for Hypothalamic Hamartomas (Hope for HH)
P. O. Box 721
Waddell, AZ 85355
Provides information and support to hypothalamic hamartoma (HH) patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers and promotes research toward early detection, improved treatments, living with HH, and a cure.
Musella Foundation for Brain Tumor Researchand Information
1100 Peninsula Blvd.
Hewlett, NY 11557
Non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life and survival times for brain tumor patients by providing information to patients and their families and raising money for brain tumor research.
Nevus Outreach, Inc
600 SE Delaware Ave
Bartlesville, OK 74
Nevus Outreach is dedicated to: improving awareness and providing support for people affected by congenital pigmented nevi, and finding a cure.
Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
302 Ridgefield Court
Asheville, NC 28806
The world’s largest non-governmental funder of childhood brain tumor research. Also offers free educational information, Internet conferences, college scholarships, and other support.
Preuss Foundation, Inc.[For Brain Tumor Research]
2223 Avenida de la Playa
La Jolla, CA 92037
Provides forums for basic brain tumor researchers in an effort to increase communication and collaboration among them.
Information sourced through CNF’s partnership with The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), US National Institutes of Health.