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 – the brain and spine – growing as abnormal masses of tissue. The type of tumor depends on the location in the nervous system, and whether it is a cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign) tumor.


There are more than 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors. Brain and spinal cord tumors vary from person to person: tumors form in various areas and develop from different cell types, meaning treatment options are different for everyone.


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.


A primary tumor is when the mass of cells originates in the brain or spine. Not all primary brain tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors (non-cancerous) are not aggressive and normally do not spread to surrounding tissues. Malignant tumors are cancerous and are typically more aggressive and spread fast to surrounding tissue.


Metastatic tumors, also known as secondary tumors, typically start elsewhere in the body, such as a lung or breast, and spread to the brain and spine. These tumors are more common than primary tumors.


Regardless of the tumor type, 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.


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

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.


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.


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

  • 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 as soon as possible. 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.


Common Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Tumors

  • 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 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.