Offering expertise and the latest treatment options for brain and spine cancers.

Brain and spine doctor viewing brain scan

What you need to know

Tumors in the brain or spinal cord are cells that have grown out of control. The tumors in the brain or spine can be cancer (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

There are two types of malignant tumors:

  • Primary brain tumors: These are tumors that begin in the brain or spinal cord.
  • Secondary or metastatic brain tumors: These are tumors that begin in another body part and spread to the brain or spinal cord.

Non-cancerous tumors in the brain and spine can still be dangerous because they can grow in parts of your brain and spine. But they tend to not grow very fast or spread. Once removed, they don’t usually come back.

The risk that a person will develop a malignant brain or spinal tumor during their life is rare — less than 1 percent. The risk is slightly higher for men (1 in 143) then women (1 in 185). Survival rates vary widely depending on the type of tumor and other factors.

Understand your diagnosis 

After a diagnosis of brain or spinal tumor, you may have more tests to help your doctor understand how far your cancer may have spread. At this point, you’ve likely had a physical exam and reviewed your health history with your provider. You may have also had a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. 

Following a diagnosis of spinal or brain cancer, you may have more tests to help your doctor understand your cancer stage. 

Cancer staging involves developing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and if it is affecting other parts of your body. Knowing the stage allows you and your doctor to develop your personalized treatment plan. 

Some tests your doctor may now recommend include:

  • CT scan, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET): Imaging technology to look inside the body
  • Tumor marker test. Sampling blood, urine or tumor tissue to look for certain substances that may indicate cancer 
  • Gene test. Testing blood, urine or tumor tissue to look for changes in a chromosome linked to a type of brain tumor

Customized treatment plans

Because each person and every cancer is different, your doctor uses your tests and exams to come up with an individual treatment plan. How long this takes depends on how complex your case is and your treatment goals. During this time, you build a relationship with your cancer doctors. You become a team for your care.
Open, honest communication can only benefit your relationship with your doctors. These tips can also help you get the most from this partnership:

  • Prepare in advance. Write down your questions ahead of your visits. A few examples of smart questions:
    • Why are we doing these tests?
    • Why do you think this treatment is right?
    • What side effects might this treatment cause?
  • Find trustworthy resources: If you’re looking to learn more, rely on this website or sources your team recommends, so you can make decisions based on good information.
  • Take a partner: Bringing a friend or family member to appointments can make you feel more confident and help you remember important details.

Care for children

Brain and spinal cord cancers are the second most common type of childhood cancers. Medical advances mean more children with cancer are saved each year. Our program at Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel offers help for these complex cases. Learn more about treatment of childhood cancers. 

Treatment options

There are several ways to treat brain or spinal cord cancer depending on the type and location of the tumor. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. People often receive a combination of treatments. Legacy Cancer Institute offers specific expertise in treating brain cancer. Learn more about your treatment options.

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Nurse navigators
Legacy Cancer Healing Center 
Support groups and classes
Cancer rehabilitation 
Survivorship services

Meet our providers

Our team of specialists provide advanced treatment in brain and spine cancer care.

Learn more about our experts.