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Brain and spinal cord cancer  

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The spinal cord is the main nerve that runs down the middle of your back. The spinal cord and brain are part of your nervous system. 

Brain cancer can be serious because it can kill brain tissue. Usually brain cancer doesn't spread to other parts of the body. 

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FAQs

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  • Tumors are cancerous or noncancerous growths that form when too many cells grow. When too many cancer cells grow in the brain or spinal cord area, a cancerous tumor can form. It's often not clear why these types of cancer start.

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  • Tumors in any part of the brain might create pressure inside the skull. This can be caused by a growing tumor, swelling in the brain or fluid blockage.

    If this happens, symptoms may include: 

    • Headaches
    • Having nausea (an upset stomach) 
    • Throwing up
    • Vision problems 
    • Problems with balance 
    • Changes in personality (the usual way a person acts) 
    • Seizures (sudden jerking movements that may cause you to pass out)
    • A feeling of sleepiness that’s not normal
    • Coma 

    These symptoms can happen for other reasons besides cancer. If you have symptoms like those listed above, you should talk to your provider to find out the reason. 

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  • There are many ways your doctor may find brain and spinal cord cancers. Your doctor might do one or more of the following:

    • A physical exam
    • Ask about your family medical history as well as yours
    • An imaging test, like an X-ray, CT scan, a bone scan, MRI or PET scan  
    • A biopsy (taking a sample of tissue from your body and testing it)
    • Lab tests and other screening tests, such as a blood test 
    • A spinal tap to look for cancer cells in the brain and spinal cord areas
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  • Each year, about 25,000 brain or spinal cord tumors are found in the United States. 

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  • You may have a higher chance of getting brain or spinal cord cancers if you have: 

    • Been around too much radiation, sometimes this happens during medical treatment
    • A weak immune system (how the body fights illness) 
    • A family history of brain or spinal cord cancer 
    OR
  • There isn't a known way to stop brain and spinal cord cancers. To stop many kinds of illness, it helps to: 

    • Have a low fat diet (eating plan) 
    • Eat fruit and vegetables 
    • Get exercise as often as you can 
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  • How we care for brain and spinal cord cancers depends on many factors: 

    • Type of cancer
    • Size of the cancer
    • Where the cancer is located in the body 
    • Stage of cancer 

    Your doctor will work with you to find the right care plan for you. Some examples of treatment include:

    • Surgery to remove cancer 
    • Chemotherapy (using medication to make the cancer smaller or to kill cancer cells)
    • Radiation (using X-rays to kill cancer cells) 
    • Targeted therapy (using drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading)
    OR
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