Contact the American Academy of Neurology
Phone: (800) 879-1960

Brain and Spinal Tumors

Brain and spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the skull or the bony spinal column, which are the primary components of the central nervous system (CNS). Benign tumors are noncancerous, and malignant tumors are cancerous. The CNS is housed within rigid, bony quarters (i.e., the skull and spinal column), so any abnormal growth, whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on sensitive tissues and impair function. Tumors that originate in the brain or spinal cord are called primary tumors. Most primary tumors are caused by out-of-control growth among cells that surround and support neurons. In a small number of individuals, primary tumors may result from specific genetic disease (e.g., neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis) or from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. The cause of most primary tumors remains a mystery. They are not contagious and, at this time, not preventable. Symptoms of brain tumors include headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting, vision or hearing problems, behavioral and cognitive problems, motor problems, and balance problems. Spinal cord tumor symptoms include pain, sensory changes, and motor problems. The first test to diagnose brain and spinal column tumors is a neurological examination. Special imaging techniques (computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography) are also employed. Laboratory tests include the EEG and the spinal tap. A biopsy, a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from a suspected tumor, helps doctors diagnose the type of tumor.


The three most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Doctors also may prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling inside the CNS.


Symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors generally develop slowly and worsen over time unless they are treated. The tumor may be classified as benign or malignant and given a numbered score that reflects how malignant it is. This score can help doctors determine how to treat the tumor and predict the likely outcome, or prognosis, for the patient.


Scientists continue to investigate ways to better understand, diagnose, and treat CNS tumors.  Experimental treatment options may include new drugs,  gene therapy, surgery , radiation, biologic immuno-agents that enhance the body's overall immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells, and a combination of therapies.  Of particular interest to scientists is the development of tailored therapeutics--involving a combination of targeted agents that use different molecules to reduce tumor gene activity and suppress uncontrolled growth by killing or reducing the production of tumor cells--to treat tumors based on their genetic makeup.  Researchers continue to search for additional clinical biomarkers (molecules or other substances in the blood or tissue that can be used to diagnose or monitor a particular disorder) of CNS tumors.  Other researchers are testing different drugs and molecules to see if they can modulate the normal activity of the blood-brain barrier and better target  tumor cells and associated blood vessels.  Also under investigation are ways to help the body respond to improved drug delivery or other cancer treatments.

View a list of studies currently seeking patients.

View more studies on this condition.

Read additional information from Medline Plus.


Cushing's Support and Research Foundation

Provides information and support for Cushing's Disease and Cushing's Syndrome patients and their families and works to increase awareness and educate the public.

60 Robbins, #12
Plymouth, MA 02360
Tel: 617-723-3674
Fax: same as phone

Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation

The world’s largest non-governmental funder of childhood brain tumor research. Also offers free educational information, Internet conferences, college scholarships, and other support.

302 Ridgefield Court
Asheville, NC 28806
Tel: 828-665-6891 800-253-6530
Fax: 828-665-6894

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6116 Executive Boulevard, Ste. 3036A, MSC 8322
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
Tel: 800-4-CANCER (422-6237) 800-332-8615 (TTY)

American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA)

Funds researchers working toward breakthroughs in brain tumor diagnosis, treatment and care, and is a national organization providing comprehensive resources and serving the complex supportive care needs of brain tumor patients and caregivers from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.

8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Suite 550
Chicago, IL 60631
Tel: 773-577-8750 800-886-2282
Fax: 847-827-9918

Pituitary Network Association

International non-profit organization for patients with pituitary disorders, their families, loved ones, and the physicians and health care providers who treat them.

P.O. Box 1958
Thousand Oaks, CA 91358
Tel: 805-499-9973
Fax: 805-480-0633

Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation

Non-profit organization that raises funds for scientific and clinical research to improve both prognosis and quality of life for those affected by pediatric brain tumors. Works to heighten public awareness and provides information and resources for families and patients.

20312 Watkins Meadow Drive
Germantown, MD 20876
Tel: 877-217-4166 301-515-2900

Children's Brain Tumor Foundation

Works to improve the treatment, quality of life, and long-term outlook for children with brain and spinal cord tumors through research, support, education, and advocacy programs.

274 Madison Avenue
Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212-448-9494 866-CBT-HOPE (228-4673)
Fax: 212-448-1022

Preuss Foundation, Inc. [For Brain Tumor Research]

Provides forums for basic brain tumor researchers in an effort to increase communication and collaboration among them.

2223 Avenida de la Playa
Suite 220
La Jolla, CA 92037
Tel: 858-454-0200
Fax: 858-454-4449

National Brain Tumor Society

Nonprofit organization committed to finding a cure for brain tumors; its mission is to aggressively drive strategic research, advocate for public policies that meet the critical needs of the brain tumor community, and provide trusted patient information.

55Chapel Street
Suite 200
Newton, MA 02458
Tel: 866-455-3214
Fax: 617-924-9998

Musella Foundation for Brain Tumor Research and Information

Non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life and survival times for brain tumor patients by providing information to patients and their families and raising money for brain tumor research.

1100 Peninsula Blvd.
Hewlett, NY 11557
Tel: 516-295-4740 888-295-4740
Fax: 516-295-2870

American Cancer Society

Nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

National Home Office
250 Williams Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30303-1002
Tel: 800-ACS-2345 (227-2345)

Nevus Outreach, Inc

Nevus Outreach is dedicated to: improving awareness and providing support for people affected by congenital pigmented nevi, and finding a cure.

600 SE Delaware Ave
Suite 200
Bartlesville, OK 74
Tel: 877-426-3887 918-331-0595
Fax: 281-417-4020

Hope for Hypothalamic Hamartomas (Hope for HH)

Provides information and support to hypothalamic hamartoma (HH) patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers and promotes research toward early detection, improved treatments, living with HH, and a cure.

P. O. Box 721
Waddell, AZ 85355

International RadioSurgery Association

Proactive patient organization providing information and referrals on Gamma Knife, Linac, and particle beam radiosurgery for brain tumors, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), and neurological pain and movement disorders.

2960 Green Street
P.O. Box 5186
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Tel: 717-260-9808
Fax: 717-260-9809

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Phone: (800) 879-1960