Brain and Spine Tumors

Brain and spinal tumors are abnormal growths in or around the spinal column and brain. They can destroy healthy cells or inhibit normal function.

At Premier Health, we provide advanced diagnosis and treatment to patients with primary and secondary brain and spine tumors. Our neuroscience team brings expertise in treating hard-to-reach skull base tumors and pituitary tumors. We use sophisticated tests to study your tumor and create a personalized treatment plan for you to remove and prevent tumor cells from growing.

Throughout diagnosis and treatment, we address all aspects of your care — body, mind and spirit.

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.

Treating Brain and Spinal Tumors

The type of treatment you receive for your brain or spinal tumor depends on the type of tumor and its location, size, and growth. Your treatment plan may include a combination of therapies and surgery.

Your care team will talk with you about each treatment option and how it will affect your life.

  • Radiation. The board-certified specialists at Premier Health use the TrueBeam™ stereotactic radiosurgery system to target tumors with a precise beam of radiation that does not damage nearby healthy cells. The TrueBeam™ system lets our doctors perform non-invasive radiation treatments accurately, quickly and effectively.
  • Chemotherapy and biological therapy. We provide different types of chemotherapy to attack brain cancer cells and biological therapies to work with your immune system to fight tumor cells. 
  • Surgery. If your brain or spinal tumor requires removal, Premier Health neurosurgeons use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible. Some brain tumors may require opening the skull for direct access to the brain. Our neurosurgeons are highly experienced, with fellowship training in skull base surgery and neuro-oncology techniques.
    • Awake craniotomy.  If a brain tumor sits near an area that controls an essential function like language, an “awake craniotomy” may be performed to prevent damage.
    • Surgery for skull base tumors. Our neurosurgery team uses minimally invasive endoscopic procedures to reach skull base tumors whenever possible. Instruments are inserted through the natural openings in the skull — the nose or mouth. This type of surgery requires a team of surgical specialists, as skull base tumors on the underside of the brain, the skull base, or the top few bones of the spinal column are hard to reach. In rare cases, open surgery is needed to remove the tumor most effectively.
    • Surgery for pituitary tumors. Located at the base of the skull, the pituitary gland can be difficult to reach. Our neurosurgery team uses minimally invasive techniques through the nose to reach and remove pituitary tumors.
    • ROSA™ robotic surgical assistant. Our neurosurgeons use ROSA™ Brain minimally invasive technology for increased safety and reliability of neurological procedures. Our neurosurgery teams use ROSA™ to perform brain biopsies and surgical evaluations of epilepsy.
  • Optune™ treatment for glioblastoma. The Optune™ medical device treats newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma with painless electrical impulses that stop the division of cancer cells and slow tumor growth. Patches (called arrays) are placed on the scalp in a formation that matches the size and location of your tumor. You can cover the arrays with a hat, scarf, or wig, but must wear them for at least 18 hours a day. Optune lets you receive cancer treatments during your normal activities. It also can be used with other cancer treatments.
  • Clinical trials. You may be able to receive new or experimental treatments by joining a clinical trial. Your doctor will talk with you about whether a clinical trial is a treatment option for you. The Premier Health and Wright State University Neuroscience Institute participates in cancer clinical trials through the Dayton Clinical Oncology Program and the Clinical Trials Research Alliance. Our patients have access to more than 100 national clinical trials.

Support for Patients and Families

At Premier Health, we surround you and your family with support. Managing a brain or spine tumor can be overwhelming. We provide services to help you live your best life, including:

Contact Us

If you or a loved one is living with a neuroscience condition, our teams of doctors and nurses are here to help. At Premier Heath, we listen to your concerns, answer your questions and connect you to the services you need.

You can access neuroscience services at the following locations: