Tumors of the Central and Peripheral Nervous System (Brain and Spine)

Brain and Spine Tumors in Adults (Central and Peripheral Nervous System)

The Central Nervous System (CNS) comprises the brain and the spinal cord. The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) comprises the nerves and ganglia (tissue mass) outside the brain and the spinal cord.


A brain tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue within or surrounding the brain. These cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, seemingly unchecked by the mechanisms that control normal cells. It is important to distinguish between benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors. The progress in outcomes over the past 20 years has been remarkable, and advances in surgery have led to a radical improvement in survival rates. Today, researchers have begun to elucidate the molecular and genetic causes of these tumors. However, current treatment and prognosis for recovery depends on several factors, including the type of tumor, its location, and the general health of the patient.


A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue within or surrounding the spinal cord and spinal column. These cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, seemingly unchecked by the mechanisms that control normal cells. While benign tumors tend to stay within the spinal cord, malignant tumors may travel to or from other areas of the body, making these types of tumors more difficult to treat. A small number of spinal tumors occur in the nerves of the spinal cord. Most often these are ependymomas (tumor of tissue from the central nervous system) and other gliomas (brain or spine tumor composed of glial cells). Tumors that start in spinal tissue are called primary spinal tumors and tumors that spread to the spine from some other place (metastasis) are called secondary spinal tumors. Tumors may spread to the spine from the breast, prostate, lung, and other areas.

Brain Tumor Symptoms

Brain tumor symptoms vary according to the type, size and location of the tumor. Location has an impact because different parts of the brain control different body functions. Some tumors initially have no symptoms, and some result in slow developing symptoms. In addition, not every brain tumor symptom is related to a tumor; some, like headaches, may be from other causes. Finally, symptoms are not the same in every individual with a brain tumor. Symptoms include:


  • Headaches, particularly morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Changes in speech or hearing
  • Changes in vision
  • Balance problems
  • Problems with walking
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Problems with memory
  • Changes in personality, mood, ability to focus, or behavior.
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Weakness in one part of the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level


It is important that if you or someone you know suspects a brain tumor, you seek medical attention. Persistent symptoms warrant an MRI or CT scan in order to gain a diagnosis. The earlier a brain tumor is detected and treated, the better the odds of survival.

Spinal Tumor Symptoms

The location of the tumor determines what symptoms a patient will experience. The most common symptom is back (or neck) pain that does not improve with rest. Other symptoms may include:


  • Numbness
  • Sciatica
  • Tingling or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Problems walking or maintaining balance
  • Partial paralysis
  • Spinaldeformity
  • Difficulty controlling bladder
  • Back pain with other problems, such as loss of appetite, unplanned weight loss, nausea, vomiting, or fever, chills or shakes

Spinal Tumors Can Occur:

  • Inside the spinal cord (intramedullary)
  • In the meninges (membranes) covering the spinal cord (extramedullary – intradural)
  • Between the meninges and bones of the spine (extradural)


The tumor may press on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing damage; with time, the damage may become permanent.