Neuro-oncology is the study of abnormal tissue growth (such as tumors) in the central nervous system. The central nervous system (or CNS) is the medical name for the brain and spinal cord.
Although central nervous system rarely spread to other parts of the body, most of them can spread through the brain tissue. Even benign tumors can destroy and compress normal brain tissue, causing damage that is disabling and sometimes fatal. For this reason, doctors usually speak of ‘brain tumors’ or ‘central nervous system tumors’ rather than ‘cancers.’ The main concerns with these tumors of the central nervous system tumors are how readily they spread through the rest of the brain or spinal cord and whether they can be removed and not come back.
There are more than 120 types of central nervous system tumors. They are classified by their cell origin and how the cells behave: from the least aggressive (benign) to the most aggressive (malignant). Some tumors range from Grade I (least malignant) to Grade IV (most malignant). The classification and grade of an individual tumor help predict its likely behavior and treatments.
Several conditions may increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumors: exposure to radiation, exposure to vinyl chloride and having certain genetic syndromes. There are no screening tests for brain and central nervous system cancers.
Signs & Symptoms
Possible symptoms of a central nervous system (brain or spinal cord) tumor include:
- A new seizure in an adult
- Gradual loss of movement or sensation in an arm or leg
- Unsteadiness or imbalance, especially if it is associated with headache
- Loss of vision in one or both eyes, especially if the vision loss is more peripheral
- Double vision, especially if it is associated with headache
- Hearing loss with or without dizziness
- Speech difficulty of gradual onset
- Headaches (though most do not indicate a tumor)
- A change in behavior
- Infertility or abnormal stopping of menstruation
Other symptoms may also include nausea or vomiting that is most severe in the morning, confusion and disorientation, and memory loss. Of course, with any such symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately.