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neurological cancer

overview

Neurological cancer is the term for cancer in the brain or spine. Sometimes, it can affect both areas. The tumors occur when cells inside your brain reproduce uncontrollably, forming a mass. They can be cancerous (high grade, malignant) or noncancerous (low grade, benign). Malignant tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of your brain. Low grade tumors don’t spread, but they can still cause symptoms, especially if they grow to be quite large.

Every year, approximately 18,000 Americans are diagnosed with malignant tumors in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system. In children, brain and spinal cord tumors most often occur before the age of 10; in adults, they usually develop between the ages of 30 and 50.

symptoms

Signs of neurological cancer vary, but common symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Problems with speech or vision
  • Difficulty walking
  • Changes in alertness, memory or concentration
  • Changes in personality
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

diagnosis

At Aurora, we diagnose brain and other neurologic cancers using state of the art neuro-imaging tools, such as:
  

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to provide a clear picture of your body’s soft tissues.


3T MRI: This high-tech MRI scanner provides more detailed scans for greater accuracy in diagnosis.

Open MRI: Open MRI allows your doctor to treat you during the scan; for example, the doctor could perform a real-time brain tumor biopsy.

Functional MRI: Doctors know generally which areas of the brain are responsible for speech, sensation, memory and other functions, but the precise locations of those centers can vary from person to person. Brain tumors can also shift the location of these centers. A functional MRI (fMRI) helps your doctor accurately map your brain, which is critical when planning surgery, radiation therapy and other interventional treatments.

16-slice CT (computed tomography): A 16-slice CT provides cross-sectional images of your brain with even greater speed and more precise detail than a conventional CT.

PET/CT: These scans provide your doctor with the anatomical data yielded by a CT scan and the metabolic information from a PET scan. This can help pinpoint smaller tumors and show the extent of metastatic cancer.

Neuropsychological exam: If you’re having cognitive difficulties or a change in your thinking abilities, your doctor may refer you for a neuropsychological evaluation. These evaluations assess memory, learning, attention, concentration, processing speed, verbal comprehension, visual perception, basic motor and sensory functions, reasoning, problem solving and more.

treatment options

If you are diagnosed with a neurological cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

Surgery: Some neurological cancers can be removed surgically, although surgery is often combined with chemotherapy, radiation or immunotherapy. 

Radiation therapy: Radiation oncology works to destroy cancer cells or prevent the cells from growing.

Chemotherapy: These cancer-fighting drugs are often used in combination with other therapies, such as radiation therapy and surgery.

Autologous stem cell treatment (ASCT): This procedure helps rebuild your bone marrow after chemotherapy. It may be recommended after an extremely high dose of chemo, which can kill off your healthy stem cells (immature blood cells) as well as the cancer cells. (“Autologous” means that the stem cells are your own, taken from your body before chemo/radiation and returned afterwards.)

Cancer immunotherapy: Stimulating your body’s immune system can help treat cancer without damaging healthy tissue. Cellular cancer vaccines use your cells to trigger your immune system to attack the cancer and prevent it from spreading, thereby reducing the risk of recurrence.

Rehabilitation therapy: This includes physical therapy to help with walking, balance and building strength; occupational therapy to help with life skills, such as dressing, eating and going to the bathroom; and speech therapy to help you overcome difficulties talking and swallowing.

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