Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults
Brain and spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of cells that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. These tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), and they can affect people of all ages, including adults.
Types of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors
There are many different types of brain and spinal cord tumors that can occur in adults. Some of the most common types include –
- Gliomas – This type of tumor develops in the glial cells that provide support and nourishment to the neurons in the brain. Gliomas are the most common type of brain tumor in adults and can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
- Meningiomas – These tumors develop in the meninges, the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Most meningiomas are benign, but they can still cause problems if they grow large enough to press on nearby structures.
- Schwannomas – These tumors develop in the cells that surround and insulate nerves in the brain and spinal cord. They are usually benign, but they can still cause symptoms if they press on nearby structures.
- Pituitary adenomas – These tumors develop in the pituitary gland, a small gland located at the base of the brain that regulates hormone production. Most pituitary adenomas are benign, but they can still cause hormonal imbalances if they produce too much or too little of certain hormones.
Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults
5. Primary central nervous system lymphomas – These are a type of cancer that develops in the lymphocytes (white blood cells) in the brain and spinal cord. They are relatively rare, but they can be aggressive and difficult to treat.
6. Metastatic tumors – These are tumors that originate in another part of the body (such as the lungs or breast) and spread to the brain or spinal cord. They are more common than primary brain tumors in adults.
The treatment options and outcomes for these different types of tumors can vary widely depending on factors such as the tumor’s location, size, and aggressiveness, as well as the patient’s overall health and other medical conditions.
The symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors in adults can vary depending on the size, location, and type of tumor. Some of the most common symptoms include –
- Headaches – Persistent or severe headaches that may worsen over time, especially in the morning.
- Seizures – Uncontrolled movements or convulsions that can occur suddenly and without warning.
- Nausea and vomiting – Persistent nausea and vomiting that are not related to other causes.
- Changes in vision or hearing – Blurred vision, double vision, hearing loss, or ringing in the ears.
- Weakness or numbness – Weakness or numbness in one side of the body or in the arms or legs.
- Changes in personality or behavior – Changes in mood, personality, or behavior that are uncharacteristic for the individual.
- Difficulty with speech or understanding language – Difficulty speaking or understanding language, slurred speech, or trouble finding the right words.
- Memory problems – Difficulty remembering recent events, impaired concentration or attention, or confusion.
- Loss of balance or coordination – Difficulty with balance, coordination, or fine motor skills.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. However, it’s worth noting that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, and not everyone with these symptoms will have a brain or spinal cord tumor.
Causes and Risk Factors
The actual cause of brain and spinal cord tumors in adults is not fully understood. However, there are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing these tumors. These include –
- Age – Brain and spinal cord tumors can occur at any age, but the risk increases as a person gets older.
- Genetics – Some rare genetic disorders, such as neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome, can increase the risk of developing brain and spinal cord tumors.
- Exposure to radiation – Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as radiation therapy for cancer or radiation from nuclear accidents, can increase the risk of developing brain and spinal cord tumors.
- Family history – Having a family history of brain or spinal cord tumors may increase the risk of developing these tumors.
- Weakened immune system – People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may have an increased risk of developing brain and spinal cord tumors.
- Environmental factors – Exposure to certain environmental toxins, such as pesticides or solvents, may increase the risk of developing brain and spinal cord tumors, although this link is not well established.
It’s worth noting that in many cases, the exact cause of brain and spinal cord tumors is unknown, and not everyone with these risk factors will develop a tumor. Additionally, some brain and spinal cord tumors may develop spontaneously, without any known risk factors.
Diagnosis and Tests
Diagnosis of brain and spinal cord tumors in adults usually involves several tests and procedures, including –
- Medical history and physical exam – Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family history, and perform a physical exam to assess your neurological function.
- Imaging tests – Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, can help visualize the location, size, and type of the tumor.
- Biopsy – A biopsy involves taking a small sample of the tumor tissue for analysis to determine whether it is cancerous or non-cancerous.
- Neurological exam – A neurological exam involves assessing the function of the brain and nervous system, including reflexes, vision, coordination, and balance.
- Blood tests – Blood tests may be done to check for infection or to assess overall health.
- Lumbar puncture – A lumbar puncture involves removing a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for analysis. This test may help detect the presence of cancer cells or infection.
It’s important to note that not all of these tests may be necessary in every case, and the exact diagnostic approach may vary depending on the individual case. A team of healthcare professionals, including a neurologist, neurosurgeon, and oncologist, may work together to determine the best approach for diagnosis and treatment.
The treatment of brain and spinal cord tumors in adults depends on several factors, including the type, size, and location of the tumor, as well as the overall health and preferences of the individual. Some common treatment options include –
1. Surgery – Surgery may be done to remove as much of the tumor as possible. In some cases, the entire tumor may be removed, while in others, only a portion of the tumor can be safely removed. Surgery may also be done to relieve pressure on the brain or spinal cord. Some common types of surgery for brain and spinal cord tumors include –
- Craniotomy – A craniotomy involves removing part of the skull to access the brain and remove the tumor. This procedure may be done under general anesthesia, and the skull is typically replaced at the end of the procedure.
- Endoscopic surgery – Endoscopic surgery involves using a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light on the end to access the tumor and remove it. This approach may be used for certain types of brain and spinal cord tumors.
- Neurostimulation – Neurostimulation involves using electrical stimulation to identify and preserve important neural pathways during surgery. This approach may be used for tumors that are close to critical areas of the brain or spinal cord.
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery – Stereotactic radiosurgery is a non-invasive procedure that uses focused radiation beams to treat the tumor. This approach may be used for tumors that are difficult to access or cannot be safely removed with surgery.
2. Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy involves using high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells. This treatment may be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, or it may be used as the primary treatment in cases where surgery is not possible.
Radiation therapy for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults may be delivered in different ways, including –
- External beam radiation therapy – This is the most common type of radiation therapy for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. It involves using a machine outside the body to deliver radiation beams to the tumor.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery – Stereotactic radiosurgery is a non-invasive procedure that uses highly focused radiation beams to deliver a high dose of radiation to the tumor while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.
- Brachytherapy – Brachytherapy involves placing a small, radioactive implant directly into the tumor. This approach may be used for certain types of brain and spinal cord tumors.
3. Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment may be used in combination with surgery and/or radiation therapy, or it may be used as the primary treatment for certain types of tumors.
4. Targeted therapy – Targeted therapy involves using drugs that target specific proteins or other molecules that are present in cancer cells. This treatment may be used for certain types of brain and spinal cord tumors.
Some examples of targeted therapy drugs used for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults include –
- Bevacizumab – This drug targets the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein, which plays a role in the formation of new blood vessels that supply the tumor with nutrients. By blocking VEGF, bevacizumab can help to slow the growth of the tumor.
- Temozolomide – This drug targets the DNA in cancer cells, which can help to slow or stop their growth. Temozolomide is often used in combination with radiation therapy for the treatment of glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor.
- Imatinib – This drug targets specific proteins that are overexpressed in some types of brain and spinal cord tumors. Imatinib can help to slow the growth of the tumor and may be used in combination with other treatments.
5. Steroids – Steroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation in the brain or spinal cord.
6. Supportive care – Supportive care may include medications to manage symptoms such as pain or seizures, as well as physical therapy or other supportive measures.
The choice of treatment will depend on several factors, including the size, location, and type of tumor, as well as the overall health of the individual. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be used to achieve the best possible outcome. It’s important to work closely with a healthcare team to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.
The outlook for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type and location of the tumor, the extent of its spread, the patient’s age and overall health, and the effectiveness of available treatments.
In general, benign tumors (non-cancerous) have a better outlook than malignant tumors (cancerous) because they are less likely to spread and can often be removed completely with surgery. Malignant tumors are more likely to grow and spread quickly and may require more aggressive treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.
For some types of brain and spinal cord tumors, the outlook can be quite good if the tumor is detected early and treated promptly. For example, meningiomas are often slow-growing and can be successfully treated with surgery in many cases.
However, other types of tumors, such as glioblastoma (a type of malignant glioma), have a much poorer outlook. Even with aggressive treatment, survival rates are typically only a few years.
Overall, the outlook for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults is highly variable and depends on many individual factors. It’s important for patients to work closely with their medical team to develop a personalized treatment plan and to stay informed about their prognosis and treatment options.