Overview

About Brain, Spine, & Skull Base Tumors

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About Brain, Spine, & Skull Base Tumors

Brain, spine, and skull base tumors are tumors that develop inside the body's central nervous system. These include growths in the brain, spinal cord, and the tissues that line them. These tumors can be cancerous or non-cancerous.

Types of Brain & Spine Tumors

These are some types of brain and spinal cord tumors:

  • Astrocytic tumors
  • Oligodendroglial tumors
  • Mixed gliomas
  • Ependymal tumors
  • Medulloblastomas
  • Pineal parenchymal tumors
  • Meningeal tumors
  • Germ cell tumors
  • Craniopharyngioma (Grade I)

Primary tumors begin in the brain and spinal cord. Metastatic tumors have spread from other cancer sites in the body to the brain and spine.

Children get brain and spinal cord tumors as well. This website provides information for tumors in adults.

The Neuro-Oncology Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with cancerous and non-cancerous tumors of the central nervous system.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs and symptoms of brain and spinal tumors in adults:

  • Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Vision, hearing, and speech problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in personality, mood, ability to focus, or behavior
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level
  • Back pain or pain that spreads from the back
  • A change in bowel habits or trouble urinating

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about brain and spinal tumors from the National Cancer Institute.

Images of the Brain

Anatomical drawing of the brain

Anatomy of the brain showing the cerebrum, ventricles (with cerebrospinal fluid shown in blue), cerebellum, brain stem (pons and medulla), and other parts of the brain.

Specialties & Treatments

Huntsman Cancer Institute offers different types of treatment for people with brain and spinal cord tumors. The type of treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the tumor, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes.

These are the most common types of treatment: 

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and about cancer screenings.

Find a Brain Tumor Doctor

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for brain and spinal tumors:

  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Infection with Epstein-Barr virus or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS
  • Having an organ transplant
  • Having certain genetic syndromes
Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Brain & Spine Cancers

Doctors use these tests to diagnose brain and spinal cord tumors:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They can also look for substances that cells produce when cancer is present.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves and/or computer technology, your health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs. Your health care provider may inject or have you swallow a dye to help see the images.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Stages of Brain & Spine Cancers

Cancer stages show if cancer has spread within the brain or spinal cord or to other parts of the body. There is no standard staging system for brain or spinal cord cancer.

To recommend treatments, your health care team will consider the following:

  • The type, number, and location of the tumor(s)
  • If surgery is recommended, how much cancer is left
  • The grade of the tumor, which means how likely it is to spread

Learn more about brain and spine tumors from the National Cancer Institute.