Neuro-oncology is the treatment of brain and spinal cord cancers, and non-cancerous (benign) tumors. Together, your brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system where several types of brain and spinal cord tumors can form.

Tumors that start in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors may spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine, but rarely do they spread to other parts of the body.

Many times, brain tumors have started somewhere else in the body and spread to one or more parts of the brain. These are called metastatic brain tumors (or brain metastases) which are more common than primary brain tumors. About half of metastatic brain tumors are from lung cancer. Other types of cancer that commonly spread to the brain are melanoma, breast cancer, colon cancer and cancer of the kidney, nasopharynx, and gastrointestinal tract. Leukemia and lymphomas may also be involved.

Treatment for brain and spinal cord cancers and tumors is a complex process. At Washington Cancer Institute, our experts include neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists, among other specialists, who work together using the most advanced technology to develop coordinated care plans based on each individual patient.

Specialists focus on treating both common and rare brain tumors, including gliomas, glioblastomas, oligodendrogliomas, astrocytomas, meningiomas, lymphomas, brain metasteses, medulloblastomas, pituitary tumors and tumors of the skull base.

Symptoms of Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers and Tumors

The signs and symptoms of adult brain and spinal cord tumors may vary person to person.

Signs and symptoms depend on the following situations:

  • Where the tumor forms in the brain
  • What the affected part of the brain controls
  • Size of the tumor

Brain Tumors Signs 

  • Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vision, hearing or 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

Spinal Cord Tumor Signs

  • Back pain or pain that spreads from the back towards the arms or legs
  • A change in bowel habits or trouble urinating
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Trouble walking

Brain and Spinal Cord Cancer and Tumor Risks

  • Exposure to vinyl chloride may increase the risk of glioma
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)
  • Receiving an organ transplant may increase the risk of primary CNS lymphoma
  • Having certain genetic syndromes may increase the risk brain tumors:
    • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) or 2 (NF2)
    • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Turcot syndrome type 1 or 2
    • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome


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