Have You or Someone You Love Been Diagnosed with a Brain or Spine Tumor?
Brain Cancer or  Spinal Cord Tumors​​
Brain and spinal cord tumors are a mass of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that exhibit uncontrollable abnormal growth (American Brain Tumor Association). It is important to differentiate between malignant and benign brain tumors. Benign tumors do not grow into neighboring tissues or spread to distant areas, and often are not life-threatening.

One of the reasons why malignant tumors are so dangerous is their ability to spread to other areas of the body. Though brain tumors rarely spread, they do usually invade adjacent cells in the brain tissue. Even so-called benign tumors can, as they grow, put pressure on the brain and hinder brain functions, causing damage that is often disabling and sometimes fatal. As such, physicians usually focus on diagnosing brain tumors rather than brain cancers themselves. 

The main concerns with brain and spinal cord tumors are how readily and quickly they spread through the rest of the brain or spinal cord and the chance of recurrence. Brain and spinal cord tumors are different in adults and children in the areas where the tumors form, development from different cell types, and a different outlook and treatment approach.
  
Annual Statistics on Brain Cancer
  
Over 700,000 Americans are living with a type of brain tumor today, and about 80,000 more will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor this year. Among those are 28,000 children battling with the diseases every single second of their lives. In adults, roughly 23,880 malignant brain or spinal cord tumors (13,720 in males and 10,160 in females) will be diagnosed (American Cancer Society). The numbers would be higher if benign cases were also included. As of 2018, 16,830 people (9,490 males and 7,340 females) will not survive from brain and spinal cord tumors.

In children, brain and spinal cord tumors are the second most common cancers in children, estimated 1 out of 4 childhood cancers. Estimate of 4,000 cases is diagnosed each year in children and teens. The incidence rate (number of tumors per 100,000 children) has not changed in recent years. As such, it is essential to have a basic knowledge of brain cancers, how likely for an individual to develop the diseases, understand the risk each type of brain tumors carry and available treatments, and the approach patients and family members should take against the diseases. But most important of all is what we can do, as a group and as individuals, in the battle against brain cancers.
“My strong opinion is that you should continue on with life as normally as you can, no matter what kind of tumor you have."
Peter Black, Living with a Brain Tumor: Dr. Peter Black's Guide to Taking Control of Your Treatment
 
People with Brain Cancer May Experience:
  • Headache: Either acute or persistent occurrence.

  • Muscular: Difficulty walking, muscle weakness, or coordination issues.

  • Vision: Vision may commonly get blurred

  • Speech: May have trouble speaking on occasion.

  • Cognitive: Inability to understand a common language, easily confused

  • Personality: May notice changes in personality.

  • Sensory: Pins and needles may be commonly felt, reduced sensation of touch.

  • Whole Body: Dizziness, fatigue, or vertigo.

  • Gastrointestinal: Nausea or vomiting.

  • Seizures or Sleepiness: double vision may also be experienced, as well as loss of peripheral vision.
Common Symptoms Associated with Brain Cancer or  Spinal Cord Tumors​​

Classifications of Brain Cancer Tumors

 The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized brain and spinal cord tumors into four grades based on their physical appearance: Type I, II, III, and IV respectively.
Brain tumors are classified into two general categories: primary and secondary (Cleveland Clinic). Primary brain tumors are those that developed within the brain or outside pushing into the brain. And often occur in children and the elderly. Secondary brain tumors are formed from cancer cells that develop outside of the brain structure and later travel to infected the brain tissues. They are more common in adults.

Physicians utilize MRI imaging to detect and diagnosis most tumors (John Hopkins Medicine). Sometimes, an operation might not be needed. The severity of the disease depends basely on the tumors’ growth potential, characteristics, affected areas, and patients’ medical history. Brain and spinal tumors often develop from nerve cells in the brain or the central nervous system (CNS) and their associated-supporting cell blocks. Nerve cells, typically, do not have the ability to repair themselves when injured; as such, they are vulnerable to develop or be affected by cancer cells.

Although brain tumors do not normally do not show sign of metastasis, the likelihood of spreading to other areas, they are not benign. If not control, brain tumors can infect healthy neighboring cells or squash the brain against the skull, damaging neurons and brain’s functions (Mayo Clinic). The symptoms include but not limited to recurrent headaches, limited vision and hearing ability, change in personality and behaviors, short-term memory loss, poor coordination or impairment, difficulty in forming speech or comprehension, unexplained nausea or vomiting, and seizures.  

Type I: Tumors that generally grow slowly and do not exhibit invasive behaviors to adjacent cells, and often are easily removed via surgery or other medical means.
Type IV: Tumors are very persistent and spread very quickly; due to their nature, quick and most aggressive treatments are necessary.
Type III: Tumors display abnormal features under the microscope, are likely to exhibit metastasis behaviors, and will require additional care and treatment after surgery.
Type II: Tumors also grow slowly, but they can spread to neighboring cells, and more likely to .reoccur post-treatment
The majority of brain and spinal cord tumors that occur in adults developed in the nervous cells of the central nervous system (American Cancer Society). Gliomas is a general term for cancer cells that developed from glial cells, the most abundant nerve cells in the central nervous system. These cells included astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, and ependymomas.    
The majority of brain and spinal cord tumors that occur in adults developed in the nervous cells of the central nervous system (American Cancer Society). Gliomas is a general term for cancer cells that developed from glial cells, the most abundant nerve cells in the central nervous system. These cells included astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, and ependymomas.
Types of Brain Cancer 
Astrocytomas are tumors that develop in glial cells called astrocytes. Two out of ten brain tumors are astrocytomas. They can spread widely throughout the brain and invade normal brain tissues, which make them difficult to perform surgery on. It is very rare for astrocytomas to spread outside of the brain or spinal cord. They are categorized into 4 grades.
Non-infiltrating (grade I) astrocytomas do not grow into nearby tissues and tend to have a good prognosis. They are common in children than in adults.

Low-grade (grade II) astrocytomas exhibit slow growth, but they can invade into nearby areas and develop into higher grade tumors.

Anaplastic (grade III) astrocytomas grow aggressively and can quickly spread to other areas.

Glioblastomas (grade IV) are the fastest growing. They make up more than half of all gliomas and are the most common malignant brain tumors in adults. 

Astrocytomas

These tumors start in the ependymal cells and range from low-grade (grade II) to higher grade (grade III), which are called anaplastic ependymomas. About 2% of brain tumors are ependymomas. Although they are more likely to spread to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pathways than other gliomas but do not spread outside of the brain or spinal cord. Unlike the previously discussed tumors, ependymomas do not grow into normal brain tissue. As a result, some of them can be removed completely and cured by surgery. However, due to their tendency to spread along ependymal surfaces and CSF pathways, treating them can sometimes prove to be difficult. Spinal cord ependymomas can be cured completely but not without side effects to the nerve system and functions.

Ependymomas

This grade I tumor, often more common in children than adults, develop above the pituitary gland and below the brain. Due to the position the tumors grow, they can put pressure on the nerves causing hormone problems, vision problems. Also, since they grow so close to these important structures, it can make them hard to remove completely without damage to vision or hormone balance.

Craniopharyngiomas

Gangliogliomas

This type of tumors is very uncommon in adults. They are grade II slow-growing tumors and can easily be cured by surgery alone or combined with radiation therapy.
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 Medulloblastomas Brain Cancer 
Medulloblastomas start from the neuroectodermal cells in the cerebellum and mostly occur in adults. Being in charge of the voluntary motor and sensory functions, any damage to the cerebellum can greatly hinder daily activities. They are grade IV fast-growing grade IV tumors and often spread throughout the CSF pathways. Treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Medulloblastomas 

Meningiomas, just like its name indicated, begin in the layers of meninges that surround the outer part of the brain and spinal cord. Meningiomas tumors are the most common brain tumors in adults. Tumors are categorized based on their physical appearance under the microscope:

Grade I (benign) meningiomas have cells that look the most like normal cells. They account for about 8 of 10 meningiomas. Most of these can be cured by surgery, but some grow very close to vital structures in the brain or cranial nerves and cannot be cured by surgery alone
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Grade II (atypical or invasive) meningiomas usually have cells that look slightly more abnormal. They make up about 15% to 20% of meningiomas. They can grow directly into nearby brain tissue and bone and are more likely to come back (recur) after surgery.

Grade III (anaplastic or malignant) meningiomas have cells that look the most abnormal. They make up only about 1% to 3% of meningiomas. They tend to grow quickly, can grow into nearby brain tissue and bone, and are the most likely to come back after treatment. Some may even spread to other parts of the body.
  

Meningiomas

These grade II tumors start in brain glial cells called oligodendrocytes and tend to slowly develop. Although only about 2% of brain tumors are oligodendrogliomas, most of them can infiltrate nearby brain tissue and cannot be completely removed via surgery. Oligodendrogliomas sometimes spread to the CSF pathways, but rarely spread outside the brain and spinal cord; however, they can become aggressive over time. This leads them to become grade III tumors which are known as anaplastic oligodendrogliomas.
  

Oligodendrogliomas

Developed from Schwann cells, the tumors can surround and envelop cranial nerves and other nerves. Schwannomas are often benign grade I, though they can put pressure on the spinal cord, causing weakness, sensory loss, and bowel and bladder problems.

Schwannomas 

Chordomas:
Developed in the bone at the base of the skull or at the lower end of the spine, chordomas can damage nearby brain tissues or spinal cord nerves by pressing them. Available treatment include surgery followed by radiation therapy, however, they have a high recurrence rate. They do not exhibit metastasis behaviors.

Other tumors that can start in or near the brain

 Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas
Cancers that develop in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Those that start in the CNS are called primary CNS lymphomas. Individuals with immune system problems are very prone to develop lymphomas. Though they often grow quickly, advances in chemotherapy have improved the chances of caring for people with these cancers.
  
Pituitary Tumors
Usually harmless, pituitary tumors can cause complications if they grow and pressure the brain and spinal cord.
Types of Brain Cancer found in cancer patients 
Meningioma which is the most common type of cancer found within adults.
Astrocytoma which accounts for every two of ten brain tumor cases found.
Oligodendroglioma which is grade II tumors and accounts for around 2% of brain tumors found in the world today.
Ependymoma which are low-grade brain and spinal cord tumors and can be cut out with surgery to be cured.

How to Reduce Your Risk in Getting Brain Cancer
There is no actual way to prevent brain cancer, but one can reduce the risk of exposure to certain materials. Such as insecticides, carcinogenic chemicals, high levels of smoking, high doses of ionizing radiation.
Treatment Options for Brain Cancer

Drugs: Antiseizure/Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs)
Steroids: Help to reduce swelling within the brain
Corticosteroids: used to reduce the swelling of the brain, also helps relieve tension inside the skull and improve neurological symptoms by decreasing the amount of tension from the tumor.
Surgery: Cutting/Removal of the tumor cells directly from healthy tissues.
Radiation: Using x-rays to kill tumor cells or inhibit growth.
Chemotherapy: use of drugs to kill or inhibit rapidly dividing cells.
Targeted Therapy: focus on a specific element of a cell, such as molecules or pathways required for undesirable cell growth.