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

Brain and Spine Tumors in Adults

Tumors can form in and around the nerve tissue of the body’s nervous system, growing as abnormal masses of tissue. The type of tumor depends on the location in the nervous system, and whether it is a cancerous or benign tumor.


Tumors of the 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.


In these sensitive areas, even benign brain or spine tumors can seriously affect important functions of the body. The pressure caused by the tissue mass can cause general symptoms, or symptoms very specific to the area it is affecting.


Although brain and spine tumors are rare, serious symptoms should not be overlooked. Below we list the signs to look for, which can help detect a brain or spine tumor early.


If you or someone you know presents several of the listed symptoms, it is important to contact a physician.


central peripheral nerve tissue tumors



Brain Tumors


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) brain tumors.


The progress in outcomes over the past 20 years has been remarkable, and advances in brain 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.


Spinal Cord and Nerve Tissue Tumors


A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue that forms within or surrounding the spinal cord and spinal column. Spine tumors are sometimes overlooked because they are rare, and the symptoms are common for several other issues.


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 may not be noticed until they are large and quick to cause damage. Other brain tumors result in slow developing symptoms.


In addition, not every symptom is related to a tumor; some, like headaches and nosebleeds, may be from other causes. Finally, symptoms are not the same in every individual with a brain tumor.


General signs and symptoms caused by brain tumors may include:

  • Headaches, particularly morning headaches or a headache that goes away after vomiting; also watch for headaches that gradually become more frequent and severe (especially with activity), or changes in the pattern of your headaches.
  • Unexplained frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Changes in speech or hearing
  • Changes in vision, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulties with walking
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, or gradual loss of sensation or movement
  • Problems with memory, or confusion over simple matters
  • Changes in personality, mood, or behavior
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Weakness in one part of the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue, unusual sleepiness or changes in activity level
  • Difficulty swallowing, facial weakness or numbness


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. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our clinic.


brain spine tumor symptoms

Spinal Tumor Symptoms

The location of a spine tumor predominately determines what symptoms a patient will experience. Symptoms may also change as the spine tumor grows.


The most common symptom of spinal tumors is back (or neck) pain that does not improve with rest. This is one of the early symptoms of a spinal tumor.


Back pain in itself, however, is not necessarily a sign of a spine tumor. There are several other spine disorders and diseases that can cause chronic back and neck pain, alongside other non-threatening reasons such as a pulled muscle.


Some common signs and symptoms of a spinal tumor include:

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


It is important to see a physician when:

  • back pain is chronic or persistent, even after medication or especially at night;
  • the pain radiates to other parts of your body and impairs certain functions, such as bladder control;
  • the pain creates sensations such as numbness or weakness down an arm or leg.

Where Spinal Tumors Can Occur

Spinal tumors are often referred to by the area of the spine in which they occur. These basic areas are cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacrum. Additionally, they also are classified by their location in the spine—anterior (front) and posterior (back).


Clinically, they are divided into three major group according to location: intramedullary, intradural-extramedullary and extradural.



Intramedullary tumors grow inside the spinal cord or on the individual nerves, most frequently occurring in the cervical (neck) region. They typically derive from glial or ependymal cells that are found throughout the interstitium of the cord. Astrocytomas and ependymomas are the two most common types, often benign, but can be difficult to remove. Intramedullary lipomas are rare congenital tumors most commonly located in the thoracic spinal cord.



Intradural-extramedullary tumors can develop in the spinal cord’s arachnoid membrane (meningiomas), in the nerve roots that extend out from the spinal cord (schwannomas and neurofibromas) or at the spinal cord base (filum terminale ependymomas). Although meningiomas are often benign, they can be difficult to remove and may recur.


Nerve root tumors are also generally benign, although neurofibromas may become malignant over time. Ependymomas at the end of the spinal cord can be large, and the delicate nature of fine neural structures in that area may complicate treatment.



Extradural tumors occur in the vertebral column, and grow either from the bone or disc elements of the spine. These lesions are typically attributed to metastatic cancer or schwannomas derived from the cells covering the nerve roots. Occasionally, an extradural tumor extends through the intervertebral foramina, lying partially within and partially outside of the spinal canal. The spinal column is the most common site for bone metastasis.


Research indicates that 30% to 90% of patients with cancer will experience the spread of cancer to their spine. Common primary cancers that spread to the spine are lung, breast and prostate. Lung cancer is the most common cancer to metastasize to the bone in men, and breast cancer is the most common in women.


Other cancers that spread to the spine include lymphoma, melanoma and sarcoma, as well as cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, kidney and thyroid. Nearly 5% to 10% of patients with systemic cancer suffer spinal metastases, and approximately 30% to 70% of patients with solid tumors have spinal metastatic disease.


Breast, lung, prostate, andrenal cell carcinomas; lymphoma; and sarcoma account for 70% of all sources of spinal metastasis. The metastases occur in the vertebral body (60%), posterior elements (30%), or both (10%).