Recently, I discovered that my uncle had lung cancer which spread to his brain and he developed a brain tumor.  He was given six months to live and died within two months.  That is my inspiration for this write-up.  This is some of the information I found while doing research to educate myself on his disease.

Brain, as well as Spinal Cord tumors are abnormal tissue growths that are found inside the skull or spinal column. Tumor is a word that is used to describe abnormal growths which are new; these are called neoplasms. It also describes those that are present at birth; which are congenital tumors.

Where in the body they are located does not matter, there are two ways which they can be classified. Most are benign. This means that the cells that the growth is made up of are similar to other normal cells, are confined to one location, and grow relatively slowly. The other type is called malignant or cancerous. In this type the cells are very different from normal cells. They spread easily to other locations of the body and grow relatively quickly.

Benign tumors are not particularly harmful in most parts of the body. In the brain and spinal cord this is not necessarily the case. The brain and spinal cord are the primary components of the central nervous system. The reason that even benign tumors can be harmful in these sections of the body is due to the fact that the central nervous system is housed within bony areas which are rigid. (Those being the skull and spinal column.) Any abnormal growth can place pressure on tissues that are sensitive and that can cause a function impairment. In addition, a tumor that is located near vital brain structures or sensitive nerves of the spinal cord can seriously threaten health. A benign tumor does not have to grow very large before it can impair or even block blood flow if where it is growing is next to an important blood vessel in the brain. If a benign tumor is found deep within the brain, surgery to remove it may be very risky to perform because of the chances of damaging vital brain centers. A tumor located near the surface of the brain, however, can usually be removed surgically.

Their potential to spread is one important difference between malignant tumors that occur in the central nervous system and those that occur elsewhere in the body. Although malignant cells elsewhere in the body can easily cause tumors inside the brain and spinal cord, it is rare that malignant central nervous system tumors spread out to other body parts. Laboratory and clinical researchers are working on understanding these and other unusual characteristics of central nervous system tumors. They think that the unique properties might suggest new strategies to prevent and treat them.

Causes of Central Nervous System Tumors

Primary tumors are the tumors that are newly formed within the brain or spinal cord. Rarely, primary central nervous system tumors grow from nerve cells that perform the nervous system’s important functions. The reason is that once the neurons are mature they stop dividing and multiplying. Most tumors are instead caused by growth cells that are out of control and support and surround neurons. The names of primary central nervous system tumors come from the types of cells that they contain, their location, or a combination of both. A couple examples are gliomas and meningiomas.

A few people may have primary tumors that result from specific genetic diseases such as tubular sclerosis and neurofibromatosis, or by radiation or chemical exposure that might cause cancer. Smoking, alcohol, and certain dietary habits, though associated with some types of cancers, have not been linked to primary brain and spinal cord tumors.

Hope of learning why and how cancer begins is one reason that research scientists are looking for clues to this process. Developing new tools to stop it is another reason. Visurses and defective genes are two of the many possible causes that are being investigated. Interest has been increasing in learning about the possible role played by environmental factors, such as chemicals and new technology.

Cancerous cells that shed from tumors in other regions of the body, travel through the bloodstream, burrow through the blood vessel walls, latch onto tissue, and create new tumors inside the brain or spinal cord are what become metastatic tumors.

Twenty-five percent of people with cancer that has spread within the body develop metastasis within the central nervous system. Lung and breast cancer are the two top culprits that lead to these central nervous system tumors. Other less frequent causes include melanoma, prostate cancer, lymphoma, and kidney cancer. Brain and spinal tumors are not contagious but at this time they are not preventable.

Symptoms of Brain Tumors

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Tumors

Source: Margolis, Dr. Simeon. The Johns Hopkins Medical Handbook. : Rebus, Inc., 2000.