Neurological Cancer

Overview

Neurological cancer is cancer of the brain or spine. Sometimes it affects both areas of the body at once. Brain cancer occurs when cells inside your brain reproduce uncontrollably, forming a mass. This mass, also called a tumor, can be cancerous (high grade, malignant) or noncancerous (low grade, benign).

Malignant neurological tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of your brain. Benign tumors don’t spread, but they can still cause neurological cancer symptoms, especially if they grow to be quite large.

Every year, approximately 18,000 Americans are diagnosed with neurologic cancer in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system. In children, brain and spine cancer most often occur before the age of 10. In adults, it usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50.

Symptoms

Neurological cancer symptoms vary from person to person. Some of the most 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

If you or a loved one are experiencing brain tumor symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor or neurologist right away. (In a life-threatening emergency dial 911.)

Diagnosis

At Aurora, we can make a neurological cancer diagnosis using state-of-the-art neuro-imaging tools and exams.

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 neurological cancer diagnosis.

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

Functional MRI: Neurologists generally know which areas of the brain are responsible for speech, sensation, memory and other functions, but the exact locations of these centers can vary from person to person. Brain tumors can also shift the locations of these centers.

A functional MRI (fMRI) helps your neurologist 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 brain 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 neurologic 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): 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 brain cancer cells. (“Autologous” means that the stem cells are taken from your own 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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