Diagnosis

Premier Health offers this information for your patients with brain and spinal tumors.

Symptoms of Brain and Spine Tumors

Brain and spinal tumors can begin in the brain and spine or they can spread to the brain and spine from other cancers in other parts of the body. Symptoms depend on the location and type of tumor.

Brain tumors impact normal brain activity, increase pressure in the brain and damage nerves and healthy tissue. Symptoms can include:

  • Blood clots
  • Changes in behavior or thinking
  • Changes in hormone levels
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Speech problems
  • Loss of touch
  • Difficulty walking or balance
  • Loss of movement control
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Speech problems
  • Seizures

Spine tumors can form in the spinal cord, nerves or membranes of the spinal cord. Symptoms may include:

  • Cold sensations in your legs, knee, ankle, hands, or fingers
  • Muscle weakness, especially in your legs
  • Loss of touch
  • Difficulty walking or balance
  • Loss of movement control
  • Pain in the middle or lower back that does not improve with pain medication and is worse when you lie down, cough or sneeze 

Types of Brain and Spine Tumors

There are two types of tumors: benign tumors and malignant tumors. Benign tumors are non-cancerous and develop slowly. Malignant tumors are fast-growing, cancerous tumors that can spread to other parts of the body.

Types of brain and spine tumors include:

  • Gliomas. This is the most common type of brain tumor. Gliomas form in the supportive glial cells. Some types of gliomas are fast-growing, others grow slowly. Gliomas include:
    • Astrocytoma. A tumor that forms in the star-shaped cells called astrocytes. Astrocytomas often spread into healthy tissue.
    • Oligodendroglioma. These tumors form in the cells that make the white protective shield that surrounds nerves (myelin) and often spread into nearby brain tissue.
    • Ependymomas These tumors form in the lining of the fluid-filled spaces (ventricles) of the brain. Ependymomas do not usually spread.
    • Mixed gliomas. These tumors include more than one type of glial cell, such as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.
    • Ganglioglioma. This is a rare tumor that forms in the brain or spine. It forms from glial and nerve cells.
    • Glioblastoma. Also called a GBM (glioblastoma multiforme), this is the most common form of brain tumor in adults. Glioblastomas are fast growing and often spread into nearby tissue.
  • Meningiomas. A type of brain tumor that starts in the outer lining of the brain.
  • Medulloblastoma. A brain tumor that forms in the back of the brain (cerebellum) that controls balance and coordination.
  • Schwannomas.  A tumor that forms in the myelin-making cells that surround the nerves. It occurs most often in the vestibular nerve of the inner ear.
  • Craniopharyngioma. This non-cancerous brain tumor forms near the pituitary gland.
  • Pituitary tumors. Tumors can form in the pituitary gland, at the base of the skull. Most pituitary tumors are benign but they can press on optic nerve and cause vision problems. Pituitary tumors can also cause higher or lower levels of hormone production.
  • Chordomas. A rare type of bone cancer that forms at the base of the skull and can affect nerves that control the face, eyes and swallowing.
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Cancer that forms in the lymphatic system and can form tumors in the brain and spine. 

Diagnosing Brain and Spine Tumors

The cause of most brain and spinal tumors is unknown. Our neurology teams use advanced tests to diagnose and understand your tumor.

Your doctor will complete a thorough physical exam and talk with you about your symptoms and your medical history.

Tests to diagnose and locate a brain tumor may include:

  • CT (computed tomography). X-rays and computer technology combine to form a picture of the brain.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Magnets and radio waves create detailed images of the brain and any tumors.
  • PET/CT (positron emission tomography). Images are created using a radioactive agent, to show changes in brain tissue.
  • SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography). This imaging test shows blood flow in the brain and can help find a tumor’s location.
  • X-rays Electromagnetic energy creates images of your skull and internal tissues to check for tumors.
  • Minimally invasive stereotactic  brain biopsies. A tiny hole is made the skull. CT or MRI helps the neurosurgeon guide a needle to the tumor to remove a small tissue sample for testing.

Tests to diagnose and locate a spinal tumor include:

  • Lumbar puncture. A thin needle inserted into the space around the spinal column removes a sample of cerebrospinal fluid to measure the red and white blood cell count and check for signs of cancer.
  • CT (computed tomography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Spine X-ray

The neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiation oncologists, and other professionals on your care team will review your test results and use them to recommend the best treatment options for you.

 

Contact Us

Premier Health offers an extensive network of experienced cancer specialists, close to home, who welcome your referrals. Find a cancer specialist best suited to your patient’s unique needs.

Our cancer specialists have access to nationally recognized cancer care protocols and best practices, since Premier Health is a certified member of MD Anderson Cancer Network®, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center.