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Adult Brain Tumors Treatment

General Information About Adult Brain Tumors

 

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An adult brain tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain.

There are many types of brain and spinal cord tumors. The tumors 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 tumors may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign brain tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain. They rarely spread into other tissues and may recur (come back). Malignant brain tumors are likely to grow quickly and spread into other brain tissue. When a tumor 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 tumors can cause symptoms and need treatment.

Brain tumors can occur in both adults and children. However, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults. (See the PDQ summary on Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview for more information on the treatment of children.)

For information about lymphoma that begins in the brain, see the PDQ summary on Primary CNS Lymphoma Treatment.

A brain tumor that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain is called a metastatic tumor.

Tumors that start in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Often, tumors 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 tumors (or brain metastases). Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors.

The types of cancer that commonly spread to the brain are melanoma and cancer of the breast, colon, lung, and unknown primary site. The types of cancer that commonly spread to the spinal cord are lymphoma and cancer of the lung, breast, and prostate. About half of metastatic brain and spinal cord tumors are caused by lung cancer. Leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer may spread to the leptomeninges (the two innermost membranes covering the brain and spinal cord).

See the following PDQ summaries for more information on cancers that commonly spread to the brain and spinal cord:

The brain controls many important body functions.

The brain has three major parts:


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.
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.

Anatomy of the brain, showing the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and other parts of the brain.
Anatomy of the brain, showing the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and other parts of the brain.

The spinal cord connects the brain to nerves in most parts of the body.

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 to cause muscles to move or from the skin to the brain about the sense of touch.

There are different types of brain and spinal cord tumors.

Brain and spinal cord tumors are named based on the type of cell they formed in and where the tumor first formed in the CNS. The grade of a tumor may be used to tell the difference between slow- and fast-growing types of the tumor. The grade of a tumor is based on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the tumor is likely to grow and spread.

Tumor Grading System

Astrocytic Tumors

An astrocytic tumor begins in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell and is sometimes called a glioma. Astrocytic tumors include the following:

(See the PDQ summary on Childhood Astrocytomas Treatment for more information about astrocytoma in children.)

Oligodendroglial Tumors

An oligodendroglial tumor begins in brain cells called oligodendrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. Oligodendrocytes are a type of glial cell and are sometimes called a glioma. Grades of oligodendroglial tumors include the following:

Mixed Gliomas

A mixed glioma is a brain tumor that has two types of tumor cells in it — oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. This type of tumor most often forms in the cerebrum.

Ependymal Tumors

An ependymal tumor usually begins in cells that line the fluid-filled spaces in the brain and around the spinal cord. Ependymal cells are a type of glial cell and are sometimes called a glioma. Grades of ependymal tumors include the following:

Embryonal Cell Tumors: Medulloblastoma (Grade IV)

A medulloblastoma is a type of embryonal tumor. The tumor forms in brain cells when the fetus is beginning to develop. This type of brain tumor often begins in the cerebellum. The tumor may spread from the brain to the spine through the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). A medulloblastoma occurs most often in children or young adults and in people with Turcot syndrome type 2 or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information on embryonal tumors in children:

Pineal Parenchymal Tumors

A pineal parenchymal tumor forms in parenchymal cells or pineocytes, which are the cells that make up most of the pineal gland. These tumors are different from pineal astrocytic tumors. Grades of pineal parenchymal tumors include the following:

Meningeal Tumors

A meningeal tumor, 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. A meningioma is most common in adults. Types of meningeal tumors include the following:

A hemangiopericytoma is not a meningeal tumor but is treated like a grade II or III meningioma. A hemangiopericytoma usually forms in the dura mater. It often recurs (comes back) after treatment and usually spreads to other parts of the body.

Germ Cell Tumors

A germ cell tumor forms in germ cells, which are the cells that develop into sperm in men or ova (eggs) in women. Germ cell tumors usually form in the center of the brain, near the pineal gland. Germ cell tumors can spread to other parts of the brain and spinal cord. There are different types of germ cell tumors. These include germinomas, teratomas, embryonal yolk sac carcinomas, and choriocarcinomas. Germ cell tumors can be either benign or malignant.

Most germ cell tumors occur in children and in people with Klinefelter syndrome. (See the PDQ summary on Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview for more information.)

Tumors of the Sellar Region: Craniopharyngioma (Grade I) and Pituitary Tumor

A tumor of the sellar region begins in the center of the brain, just above the back of the nose. It can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells.

Recurrent Brain Tumors

A recurrent brain tumor is a tumor that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. Brain tumors often recur, sometimes many years after the first tumor. The tumor may recur at the same place in the brain or in other parts of the central nervous system.

The cause of most adult brain tumors is unknown.

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. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. There are few known risk factors for brain tumors. The following conditions may increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumors:

The symptoms of adult brain and spinal cord tumors are not the same in every person.

The symptoms caused by a brain tumor depend on where the tumor formed in the brain, the functions controlled by that part of the brain, and the size of the tumor. Headaches and other symptoms may be caused by adult brain tumors. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

Brain Tumors

Spinal Cord Tumors

Tests that examine the brain and spinal cord are used to detect (find) adult brain tumors.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

Most adult brain tumors are diagnosed and removed in surgery.

If doctors think there may be a brain tumor, a biopsy may be done to remove a sample of tissue. For tumors in the brain, the biopsy is done by removing part of the skull and using a needle to remove the tissue sample. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the doctor may remove as much tumor as safely possible during the same surgery. After the surgery, a pathologist checks the cancer cells to find out the type and grade of brain tumor. The grade of the tumor is based on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the tumor is likely to grow and spread. A CT scan or MRI may be used to find out if any cancer cells remain after surgery.

The following tests may be done on the tumor tissue that is removed:

Sometimes a biopsy or surgery cannot be done safely because of where the tumor formed in the brain or spinal cord. These tumors are diagnosed based on the results of imaging tests and other procedures.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options for primary brain tumors depend on the following:

The prognosis and treatment options for metastatic brain tumors depend on the following:

The prognosis is better for brain metastases from breast cancer than from other types of primary cancer. The prognosis is worse for brain metastases from colon cancer.