Brain and spinal cord (also known as central nervous system, or CNS) tumors can be benign or malignant. Explore the links on this page to learn more about the many different CNS tumor types and how they are treated. We also have information about brain cancer statistics, research, and clinical trials.

Adult Central Nervous System Tumors Treatment

  • An adult central nervous system tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain and/or spinal cord.
  • A tumor that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain is called a metastatic brain tumor.
  • The brain controls many important body functions.
  • The spinal cord connects the brain to nerves in most parts of the body.
  • There are different types of brain and spinal cord tumors.
    • Astrocytic Tumors
    • Oligodendroglial Tumors
    • Mixed Gliomas
    • Ependymal Tumors
    • Medulloblastomas
    • Pineal Parenchymal Tumors
    • Meningeal Tumors
    • Germ Cell Tumors
    • Craniopharyngioma (Grade I)
  • Having certain genetic syndromes may increase the risk of a central nervous system tumor.
  • The cause of most adult brain and spinal cord tumors is not known.
  • The signs and symptoms of adult brain and spinal cord tumors are not the same in every person.
  • Tests that examine the brain and spinal cord are used to diagnose adult brain and spinal cord tumors.
  • A biopsy is also used to diagnose a brain tumor.
    • Sometimes a biopsy or surgery cannot be done.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

An adult central nervous system tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain and/or spinal cord.

There are many types of brain and spinal cord tumors. The tumors are formed by the abnormal growth of cells and may begin in different parts of the brain or spinal cord. Together, the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS).

The tumors may be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer):

  • Benign brain and spinal cord tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain. They rarely spread into other tissues and may recur (come back).
  • Malignant brain and spinal cord tumors are likely to grow quickly and spread into other brain tissue.

When a tumor grows into or presses on an area of the brain, it may stop that part of the brain from working the way it should. Both benign and malignant brain tumors cause signs and symptoms and need treatment.

Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview

  • A childhood brain or spinal cord tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain or spinal cord.
  • The brain controls many important body functions.
  • The spinal cord connects the brain with nerves in most parts of the body.
  • Brain and spinal cord tumors are a common type of childhood cancer.
  • The cause of most childhood brain and spinal cord tumors is unknown.
  • The signs and symptoms of childhood brain and spinal cord tumors are not the same in every child.
  • Tests that examine the brain and spinal cord are used to detect (find) childhood brain and spinal cord tumors.
  • Most childhood brain tumors are diagnosed and removed in surgery.
  • Some childhood brain and spinal cord tumors are diagnosed by imaging tests.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery).

Childhood Astrocytomas Treatment

Astrocytomas are tumors that start in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell. Glial cells hold nerve cells in place, bring food and oxygen to them, and help protect them from disease, such as infection. Gliomas are tumors that form from glial cells. An astrocytoma is a type of glioma.

Astrocytoma is the most common type of glioma diagnosed in children. It can form anywhere in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

This summary is about the treatment of tumors that begin in astrocytes in the brain (primary brain tumors). Metastatic brain tumors are formed by cancer cells that begin in other parts of the body and spread to the brain. Treatment of metastatic brain tumors is not discussed here.

Brain tumors can occur in both children and adults. However, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults. See the following PDQ summaries for more information about other types of brain tumors in children and adults.

Childhood Brain Stem Glioma Treatment

  • Childhood brain stem glioma is a disease in which benign (noncancer) or malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the brain stem.
  • There are two types of brain stem gliomas in children.
  • The cause of most childhood brain tumors is unknown.
  • The signs and symptoms of brain stem glioma are not the same in every child.
  • Tests that examine the brain are used to detect (find) childhood brain stem glioma.
  • A biopsy may be done to diagnose certain types of brain stem glioma.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery).

Childhood Central Nervous System Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor Treatment

Signs and symptoms depend on the following:

  • The child’s age.
  • Where the tumor has formed.

Because atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor is fast growing, signs and symptoms may develop quickly and get worse over a period of days or weeks. Signs and symptoms may be caused by AT/RT or by other conditions. Check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level.
  • Loss of balance, lack of coordination, or trouble walking.
  • Increase in head size (in infants).

Childhood Central Nervous System Embryonal Tumors Treatment

  • Central nervous system (CNS) embryonal tumors may begin in embryonic (fetal) cells that remain in the brain after birth.
  • There are different types of CNS embryonal tumors.
  • Pineoblastomas form in cells of the pineal gland.
  • Certain genetic conditions increase the risk of childhood CNS embryonal tumors.
  • Signs and symptoms of childhood CNS embryonal tumors or pineoblastomas depend on the child’s age and where the tumor is.
  • Tests that examine the brain and spinal cord are used to detect (find) childhood CNS embryonal tumors or pineoblastomas.
  • A biopsy may be done to be sure of the diagnosis of CNS embryonal tumor or pineoblastoma.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Childhood Craniopharyngioma Treatment

Childhood craniopharyngiomas are rare tumors usually found near the pituitary gland (a pea-sized organ at the bottom of the brain that controls other glands) and the hypothalamus (a small cone-shaped organ connected to the pituitary gland by nerves).

Craniopharyngiomas are usually part solid mass and part fluid-filled cyst. They are benign (not cancer) and do not spread to other parts of the brain or to other parts of the body. However, they may grow and press on nearby parts of the brain or other areas, including the pituitary gland, the optic chiasm, optic nerves, and fluid-filled spaces in the brain. Craniopharyngiomas may affect many functions of the brain. They may affect hormone making, growth, and vision. Benign brain tumors need treatment.

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.