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Brain & Spinal Tumors

In most cases, what causes primary tumors to form in the brain and spinal column is unknown. When abnormal tissue (tumor) grows within or around your brain or spinal cord, you may be at risk for serious complications. Your central nervous system is housed in the rigid bony structures of your skull and spine. Tumor growth can put pressure on these nerves and tissues, and it may interfere with your normal function.

There are many different types of brain and spinal tumors. Some are cancerous and some are not. Tumors that originate in the brain and spinal column are called primary tumors. They usually come from the out-of-control growth of cells that surround and support your nerve cells. In some cases, genetic diseases such as neurocutaneous syndromes (neurofibromatosis or tuberous sclerosis) cause primary brain or spinal tumors.

Brain and spinal tumors that originate from somewhere else in the body are called metastatic tumors. This means they might be a result of another known cancer in your body, such as lung cancer, lymphoma or melanoma that spreads to your brain or spine.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are more than 350,000 people in the U.S. living with a primary brain tumor. Brain tumors are the most common form of solid tumor in children. More than 3,000 cases of brain and spinal tumors annually are diagnosed in children under age 20. Spinal cord tumors are less common and most often occur in young to middle-aged adults.

The symptoms you experience with a brain or spinal tumor depend on the tumor’s location, type, size and rate of growth. Common symptoms of brain tumors include headaches, nausea and vomiting, vision or hearing problems, changes in motor function and balance and behavioral and cognitive issues. Spinal cord tumor symptoms include pain and weakness in the spine and limbs, sensory changes and motor problems.

At Indiana University Health Neurology & Neurosurgery, we use a team approach that draws on the expertise of physicians and leading-edge treatments from different disciplines, such as neurosurgery, oncology, pathology and radiology. We work with you to create an individualized plan to treat all the specifics of your particular case.

Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors can develop in different ways. Tumors that start in the spinal tissue and nerves or the bones of the spinal column are called primary spinal tumors.

Some types of tumors that develop in the bones or vertebrae of the spine are called chordomas. They can form anywhere along your spine, but are most common in the base of the spine. They develop from cells that were once part of the embryonic notochord when you are an embryo.

Osteosarcomas are another type of bony, spinal tumor. These cancerous tumors often appear in adolescence or in adults over the age of 60. They tend to develop in bones that are growing rapidly during adolescence, such as the long bones of your legs and your spine

Some spinal tumors occur in the nerves of the spinal cord itself. Most often these are ependymomas and schwannomas. Ependymomas develop from the cells that line the spinal cord. They occur more frequently in children and are rare in adults. Schwannomas are tumors in the tissues that cover the nerves, called Schwann cells. They tend to be benign (noncancerous) and often develop in the nerves of the head and neck or the nerves that control the arms and legs.

Tumors that spread to the spine from some other place (such as the prostate or lung) are called metastatic spinal tumors.

Symptoms associated with spinal tumors can include:

  • Weakness in the arms and legs
  • Difficulty walking
  • Abnormal sensations in the arms and legs
  • Back pain
  • Urinary and/or fecal incontinence
  • Loss of muscle function
  • Muscle contractions or twitching

The specific treatment for your spinal tumor depends on the tumor’s type, location, size and rate of growth. Treatments generally include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery

Brain and spinal tumors, whether or not they are cancerous, are complex conditions that need special care. We are highly trained in providing immediate and long-term therapies and treatments to reduce or remove your tumor and preserve your nerve function.

At the Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center, we use a collaborative approach to determine the best treatment for you. Our team of experts includes:

  • Neurologists
  • Neurosurgeons
  • Neuro-oncologists
  • Neuropathologists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Neuroradiologists

We offer a depth of knowledge in dealing with adult and pediatric brain and spinal tumors, including rare and highly complex cases.

We work with the Indiana University School of Medicine, Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine and Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health to deliver specialized care. We offer comprehensive neurological services at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health including our neurofibromatosis clinic, the only one of its kind in the state.

We are involved in leading-edge research into adult and pediatric brain and spinal tumors. We offer state-of-the-art treatments that deliver targeted doses of radiation. In addition, we use the latest surgical techniques to personalize and deliver the best care options available for you.

Our pediatric neuro-oncology program is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means we excel in our research efforts and deliver the most up-to-date treatments to our patients. We are also a Phase 1-designated member of the Children's Oncology Group—a national pediatric oncology research consortium. This makes us one of only a few centers that offer children access to new medicines and treatments in early testing stages.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Brain & Spinal Tumors Treatment Information

Treatment plans include a combination of medicines, neurosurgery, radiation and chemotherapy. To deliver the best outcomes in treating your brain or spinal tumor, we perform comprehensive diagnostic tests to fully understand your condition:

Brain & Spinal Tumors Locations & Physicians

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Brain & Spinal Tumors Support Services

Learn more about brain and spinal tumor treatments at these websites: