Can Spinal Tumors Affect the Brain?

Brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system or CNS.
Brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system or CNS.

Brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system or CNS. These tumors arise within the skull or the spinal canal (the column that encloses the spinal cord). A spinal tumor is also called an intradural tumor and is an uncontrolled growth of cells developing within the spinal canal or the bones of the spine.

Spinal tumors can affect the brain in several ways. Growth in the spinal canal can block the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. This can raise the pressure inside the skull (intracranial pressure), which can harm the brain. A tumor in the spinal canal can also travel to the brain forming growths (secondaries) in the brain. Tumors in the brain can move or press on sensitive tissue. They can block the flow of blood and other fluids, which can cause pain and inflammation. Tumors can also interfere with the nerve signaling to and from the brain. The signs and symptoms will differ depending on which part of the brain harbors the tumor. Some tumors, however, may cause no symptoms.

What are the brain and spinal cord tumors in adults?

Brain and spinal cord tumors refer to the masses of uncontrolled cell growth within the skull or the bony spinal column. Brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system or CNS. Tumors may develop in these areas when the genes that regulate cell growth and multiplication become mutated or damaged. This leads to the uncontrolled growth of the abnormal cells. A tumor can harm in many ways, such as:

  • Killing or damaging healthy cells
  • Moving or exerting pressures on sensitive tissue and blocking the flow of blood and other fluid that lead to pain and inflammation
  • Blocking the normal flow of electricity in the brain (nerve signaling to and from the brain)

There are over 120 types of brain and spinal cord tumors. These tumors in adults may differ from those seen in children. Adult brain and spinal cord tumors often form in different areas, grow from different cell types, and may have a different outlook and management plan than those in children. These tumors may be noncancerous/benign or cancerous/malignant. Malignant tumors are often life-threatening as they can spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors in the brain and spinal cord are also dangerous since they can grow, exert pressure on, and damage normal brain tissue. This can result in serious or sometimes life-threatening damage.


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What are the signs and symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors in adults?

The signs and symptoms may differ depending on where the tumor is and how fast it grows. The general symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Vision problems, such as blurring of vision
  • Problems in walking and balancing
  • Seizures
  • Change in behavior or personality
  • Altered consciousness, such as drowsiness and even coma

Depending on the site of the tumor, the symptoms may differ:

  • Cerebrum (the large, outer part of the brain): Weakness or numbness that is often restricted to one side of the body, problems with speech or understanding words, personality change, problems with thinking, or problems with language.
  • Cerebellum (the lower, back part of the brain that controls coordination): Difficulty in walking, problems with precise movements of hands, arms, feet, and legs, problems swallowing or synchronizing eye movements, and changes in speech rhythm.
  • Tumors in the rear part of the cerebrum or around the pituitary gland, the optic nerve, or certain other cranial nerves may cause vision problems.
  • Tumors in or around the cranial nerves may cause different symptoms depending on the nerve affected. The symptoms are hearing loss (in one or both ears), balance problems, weakness of some facial muscles, facial numbness or pain, or difficulty in swallowing.
  • Spinal cord tumors may lead to weakness, numbness, lack of coordination in the arms and/or legs (usually on both sides of the body), and bladder or bowel problems.

There may be several other symptoms depending on factors, such as the type of tumor and the rate of its growth. As the brain also performs other functions like regulating hormone production, there may be several other symptoms.