The Central Nervous System
The complex interaction between the brain and spinal cord comprise the central nervous system. Within its span of control are body movement, speech, and memory. When a tumor grows in the brain or on the spinal cord, it can directly impact or impair these bodily functions.
The path between your brain and parts of the body includes a highway starting at the brain stem and traveling through the spinal cord. Messages go back and forth with your brain sending and receiving messages from different parts of the body via the spinal cord. For example, if you are walking barefoot and step on broken glass, the skin on the bottom of your foot senses pain and sends a message to the brain through the spinal cord. The brain then interprets the message and immediately issues a command through the spinal cord to the muscles controlling the foot to move off of the broken glass.
Benign vs Malignant Tumors
Tumors which do not contain cancer cells are known as benign tumors. Benign tumors can form in the brain and on the spinal cord. As a benign tumor grows, it begins to affect surrounding tissues and can impair critical functions of the brain and spinal cord. Fortunately, benign tumors can be removed with surgery and generally do not grow back.
Malignant tumors are those tumors which contain cancer cells. These cancer cells will often seek out healthy surrounding tissue and invade a particular area. Malignant tumors in the brain and spinal cord pose a huge risk in that they continue to spread and can impair normal bodily function. While the rate of growth of different tumors varies, in extreme cases the cancer cells metastasize, or spread to different parts of the body. This process is often inhibited with malignant tumors due to positioning in the brain which prevents it from reaching beyond the bones of the skull.
Primary and Secondary Brain Tumors
Tumors with origins in the brain or spinal cord are called primary tumors. While there are well over 100 types of identified brain tumors, the types of treatment for each can vary greatly. Some of these tumors can be eradicated with surgery, or other forms of treatment, while others do not respond to a variety of treatment methods.
Secondary tumors originate in other parts of the body and spread or metastasize into the central nervous system comprised of the brain and spinal cord. This is the most common way for cancer cells to reach the central nervous system, and they often originate from the lungs, colon, and breast areas.
Brain Tumors in Children
There are many types of brain tumors that occur among children. These range from those that can be cured with minimal therapy to those that cannot be cured even with aggressive treatment. Some of the most common types of brain tumors found in children are:
- Medulloblastomas. This type of tumor only occurs in the back part of the brain, or cerebellum. These tumors are very sensitive to chemotherapy and radiation, so there is a high probability of a cure with aggressive treatment. Medulloblastomas is among the most frequently occurring types of brain tumors found among children.
- Ependymomas. The treatment for this type of tumor is primarily surgery and radiation therapy. If the tumor is completely removed, there may be no need for additional treatment. This type of tumor is generally found in the narrow openings or ventricles of the brain.
- Brain stem gliomas. These are a group of tumors of the brain stem that will differ depending on location. Most are curable with surgery, or radiation therapy. Tumors that originate in the area of the brain stem known as the pons are rarely curable even despite aggressive therapy.
- Astrocytomas. These can be classified into four subtypes which include juvenile pilocytic, fibrillary, anaplastic, and glioblastoma. Location of this type of tumor is an important factor in determining a cure. If the tumor can completely removed by surgery there is a greater chance of success.