Brain and Spinal Cord Cancer

Brain and spinal cord cancers are abnormal growths of tissue or tumors, found inside the skull or the bony spinal column.


Symptoms of brain cancer include:

  • Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vision, hearing, and speech problems
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking
  • Weakness
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level
  • Changes in personality, mood, ability to focus, or behavior
  • Seizures

Symptoms of spinal cord cancer include:

  • Back pain or pain that spreads from the back towards the arms or legs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the legs
  • Trouble walking


In addition to all major cancer screening and diagnosis methods, we also offer these techniques when testing for brain and spinal cord cancer:

  • Visual Field Exam – An exam to check a person’s field of vision by measuring both how much a person can see when looking straight ahead and how much a person can see at the outer edges of their field of view
  • Tumor Marker Test – A procedure in which a sample of blood, urine, or tissue is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances made by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body
  • Gene Testing – A laboratory test in which a sample of blood or tissue is tested for changes in a chromosome that has been linked with certain types of tumors
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scan) – A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body
  • SPECT Scan – A procedure that uses a special camera linked to a computer to make a three-dimensional picture of the brain
  • Angiogram – A procedure used to look at blood vessels and the flow of blood


Surgery is usually the first treatment for brain and spinal cord cancer. Surgery may include intraoperative brain mapping, which allows for a more refined surgical removal of the tumor and improves quality of life. Another technique we utilize is image guided stereotactic surgery via the StealthStation® neuro-navigation system. The system reduces both the size of the incision and injury to adjacent brain tissue, and allows your neurosurgeon to visualize your brain in 3D prior to and during surgery.

Radiation and chemotherapy are also treatment options, as are:

  • Watchful Waiting – closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change.
  • Metastatic Brain Cancer Treatments –Often tumors found in the brain or spinal cord started somewhere else in the body and spread to one or more parts of the brain. These are called metastatic brain tumors. Many of the same treatments used for primary brain cancers or for the source of the metastatic brain cancer may be used to treat brain metastases.

Your care team will work with you to determine your exact course of treatment. Learn more about treatment options.