Brain & Spinal Cord Tumors: The Facts

More than any other cancer, brain and spinal cord/central nervous system (CNS) tumors can have lasting and life-altering physical, cognitive, and psychological impacts on a patient’s life.

This means malignant brain and spinal cord tumors can often be described as equal parts neurological disease and deadly cancer. Even benign brain tumors can be deadly if they interfere with portions of the brain responsible for vital bodily functions.

Brain Tumors

Quick Facts

  • 688,096 Americans are living with a brain tumor
  • An estimated 77,670 people will receive primary brain tumor diagnosed in 2016
  • The average survival rate for all malignant brain tumor patients is only 34.4%
  • For the most common form of primary malignant brain tumors, glioblastoma multiforme, the five-year relative survival rate is only 5.1%
  • An estimated 16,616 people will die from malignant brain tumors (brain cancer) in 2016


The most prevalent brain tumor types in adults:

  • Meningiomas, which make-up 36.4% of all primary brain tumors
  • Gliomas (such as glioblastoma, ependymomas, astrocytomas, and oligodendrogliomas), make-up 80% of malignant brain tumors


  • More than 28,000 children (0-14 years of age) are estimated to be living with a brain tumor in the US
  • An estimated 4,630 new cases of childhood/adolescent primary malignant and nonmalignant brain and CNS tumors are expected to be diagnosed in 2016 (15-19 years of age)
  • The average survival rate for all primary pediatric (0-19 years of age) malignant brain tumors is 73.6%
    • Brain and CNS tumors are the most prevalent form of pediatric cancer in kids under 19
  • Brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children under 14, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children and young adults under 20
  • It is estimated that, in 2009, a total of 47,631.5 years of potential life were lost due to brain tumors in children 0-19 years old
  • The most prevalent brain tumor types in children (0-14):
    • Pilocytic Astrocytoma, Malignant Glioma, Medulloblastoma, Neuronal and mixed neuronal-glial tumors, and Ependymomas 
Spinal Cord Tumors

Quick Facts:

  • A spinal cord tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal or within the bones of your spine. It may be cancerous or noncancerous.
  • Primary spinal cord tumors — tumors that originate in the spine rather than spread to the spine from elsewhere in the body — are usually benign.
    • They are so rare that they account for only a half of one percent of all newly diagnosed tumors.
    • Malignant primary tumors of the spinal cord are even less common.
  • Most spinal cord cancers are metastatic or secondary cancers, meaning they arise from cancers that have spread to the spinal cord.
    • Cancers that may spread to the spine include lung, breast, prostate, head and neck, gynecologic, gastrointestinal, thyroid, melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and others.
  • There are two main types of tumors that may affect the spinal cord:
    • Intramedullary tumors are inside the spinal cord; begin in the cells within the spinal cord itself, such as astrocytomas or ependymomas.
    • Extramedullary tumors develop within the supporting network of cells around the spinal cord; inside the dura, but outside the spinal cord. Examples of extramedullary tumors that can affect the spinal cord include schwannomas, meningiomas and neurofibromas.
  • Spinal tumors or growths of any kind can lead to pain, neurological problems and sometimes paralysis.
  • Whether cancerous or not, a spinal tumor can be life-threatening and cause permanent disability.
  • Treatment for a spinal tumor may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications.


sources: UCSF Medical Center, University of California San Francisco,; Mayo Clinic,; John's Hopkins Medicine,; American Cancer Society,; National Brain Tumor Society,