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Neuroscience Center

Brain and Spine Tumors

With more than 650 spine and brain tumor procedures performed per year, neurosurgeons at Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Neuroscience Center have an internationally renowned reputation for providing the best care and developing the most promising new neurosurgery techniques. From smaller incisions and less recovery time to advanced imaging techniques that help pinpoint critical areas of the brain and spinal cord, both our brain tumor and spinal tumor patients benefit from our advanced expertise.

Understanding Brain Tumors

Brain tumors occur either in the brain or in between the skull and the brain. Tumors can be primary—meaning they start in the brain—or secondary, meaning they began as cancer in another part of the body and metastasized, or spread, to the brain. Physicians will classify a brain tumor as benign or malignant based on how invasive, threatening and fast-growing it is.

A brain tumor can cause various symptoms and can result in multiple neurological problems such as headaches, seizures, personality changes, weakness or difficulty walking. There are more than 100 types of brain tumors, but the most common include:

Brain tumors are more common in adults ages 35 and older but may occur in young people. Up to 2,200 children in the United States are diagnosed with brain tumors each year.

Scientists continue to seek answers for what causes a brain tumor and learning how to stop their growth. Currently, scientists are focusing on the DNA inside the tumor cells because most brain tumors seem to have an abnormal chromosome somewhere in their DNA. Physicians and scientists in the Neuroscience Center are among the leading researchers in the nation seeking to further understanding of brain and spine tumors. 

Understanding Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors include tumors of the vertebrae and surrounding tissues as well as tumors of the spinal cord and its coverings. Both spinal tumors and tumors of the vertebrae are rarer than brain tumors. The occurrence of tumors on the vertebrae is somewhat higher than in the spine. A spinal tumor can be considered primary or metastatic, benign or malignant. Metastatic tumors of the vertebrae are common in cases of breast, lung and prostate cancer.

Because having a spinal tumors is relatively uncommon, neurosurgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital regularly receive referrals of these cases from physicians throughout the greater Missouri region and are among the most experienced in neurosurgery for treating these types of tumors.

Symptoms of Brain Tumors and Spine Tumors

The most common symptoms of a brain tumor include:

  • Headaches, usually worse in the morning
  • Trouble thinking or remembering
  • Trouble talking
  • Change in personality
  • Seizures or convulsions, causing weakness, numbness or loss of consciousness
  • Vision problems
  • Paralysis or weakness on one side of the body
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Nausea and/or vomiting, usually worse in the morning

A Spinal tumor can frequently cause these symptoms:

  • Loss of sensation in other parts of the body
  • Back pain
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Weakness
  • Loss of muscle control

Brain Tumor Treatment

Brain tumors are commonly diagnosed with imaging tools such as CT scans or MRIs. Once a brain tumor is discovered, most patients are seen by a neurosurgeonneurologist or neuro-oncologist. Treatment may begin with surgery to biopsy or remove the tumor, followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy to kill any remaining tumor cells.

Spinal Tumor Treatment

Tumors of the vertebrae, whether primary or metastatic, are often treated by surgery to remove as much tumor as possible, followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Resection of spinal cord tumors also involves long and delicate surgeries to protect the surrounding normal spinal cord and spinal cord function. Treatment thereafter may also consist of radiation and/or chemotherapy to eliminate any remaining tumor cells.

Neurosurgery can be performed by neurosurgeons or orthopedic surgeons to treat tumors of the spine itself, whereas only neurosurgeons treat spinal cord tumors.

Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Neurosciences Center employs the most advanced therapeutic techniques, including Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery, computerized image-guided surgery, intraoperative MRI imaging, intraoperative brain mapping, skull base surgery, the latest in implantable chemotherapy techniques and ongoing clinical trials of new brain tumor treatment options.

For a referral to a Washington University neurologist or neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call .

Some information courtesy of American Brain Tumor Association.

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