Brain Tumors: Types, Symptoms and Causes

Brain Tumors

The Brain tumor causes and core are a type of disease characterized by abnormal tissue formation both in the brain and spinal cord (National Institute of Cancer, 2015).

Although the body of knowledge about this type of neoplasia has progressed considerably in the last decades and therefore the survival of patients has increased, the prognosis has not changed significantly.

Brain Tumor Causes

Therefore, traditional approaches continue to be used in its treatment: surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and introduction of new drugs (Lafuente-Sánchez, 2002).

Brain Tumors


What is a brain or spinal tumor?

A tumor is an abnormal accumulation of cells that form a mass (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

Cells are the basic structural and functional units for humans. When our body functions in a coordinated and standardized way, the normal development path is the formation of new cells that replace the old or damaged cells. However, the cells may also begin to grow abnormally, forming a tumor (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).

This uncontrolled development of cells is due to a mutation or injury of genes responsible for the regulation of cell growth and death (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

When genetic regulatory mechanisms do not function optimally, cells can begin to grow and divide uncontrollably and thus form tumors in any body zone (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

These masses or tumors will cause damage at the neurological level, both because of the pressure they can exert on other brain and spinal structures as well as the propagation of the brain through different areas (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).

Are all brain and spinal tumors going to cause neurological damage?

In general, all tumors regardless of where they are located may be classified as benign or malignant (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016):

  • Benign tumor: this is a non-cancerous cell mass that grows slowly and localized, does not expand into other areas. The cells that form this tumor are similar to the non-pathological ones and are usually removed surgically without ever reappearing. It can damage and compress brain areas, when located in vital areas they can be life-threatening Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).
  • Malignant tumor: it is a mass composed of cancer cells; they usually grow faster and more globally and expand into other areas. In addition to the use of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often used. In general, malignant tumors seriously threaten the life of the person who has Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).

Aside from being a benign or malignant tumor, all masses that grow in or invade brain tissue are potentially capable of damaging the various neurological functions.

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Although some of the brain tumors can spread to other areas of the body, most of them have to propagate between neural tissue, both malignant and benign tumors (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).

Depending on the type, tumors can cause different events at the brain and spinal (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016):

  • Damage or destroy healthy cells.
  • Harm or disrupt the function of healthy cells.
  • You can move or push the surrounding tissue.
  • They can block the blood flow causing inflammation, obstruction, hypoxia, among others.
  • It can block the flow of neural information by damaging input or output pathways.

Although the most frequent is the appearance of a broad symptomatology, cases have also been documented in which the presence of a brain or spinal tumor is asymptomatic.

Types of Brain and Spinal Tumors

Clinical and experimental reports have identified more than 120 types of brain and spinal tumors. All these types can be classified by place of origin and expression; by the type of cells that originate them and / or by the specific location in which they are found (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

Normally in the scientific literature depending on the origin and expansion of this type of tumors, we speak of primary or metastatic tumors:

Primary tumor

The cells begin to grow localized in the CNS. They may be benign or malignant and are given preferentially in adults (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016). The most prevalent are meningiomas and glooms (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).

Metastatic tumor

The cancerous or malignant primary tumor is generated in another part of the body and expands to regions of the central nervous system (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

Approximately 50% of metastatic brain and spinal tumors are the result of lung cancer, although they can also be derived from (National Institute of Cancer, 2015): melanomas, breast cancer, kidney cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer.

Depending on the type of original cell or part of the brain or marrow where the National Institute of Neurological Disorders (2016) is located, one of the most prevalent types, both children and adults, is highlighted:


Tumors are derived from gill cells (cells that support different neuronal functions). They usually present in the cerebral hemispheres and in other areas such as the optic nerve, the cerebral stem or in the cerebellum. We can perform a classification of the glooms according to which type of gill cell is affected:

  • Atrocytomas: develop from atrocities. They are the cause of approximately 50% of CNS tumors. The most common forms are: a plastic astrocytoma, polycystic astrocytoma, glioblastoma multiform.
  • Ependymomas: develop from the cells that line the aqueducts and cerebral cavities and the spinal c@nal where the cerebrospinal fluid is produced and stored. It is usually benign.

Other tumors that may appear include:


It develops in the spine; they are usually of the congenital type and can invade both the spinal c@nal and the brain.

Papillomas of the choroid plexus

It essentially affects the production of cerebrospinal fluid increased its production or blocking the normal flow.


They usually grow in the brain base, in regions close to the pituitary gland, optic nerve and surrounding tissue. It is usually of the congenital type.

Neuroepithelial Neoepithelial Tumors

They usually develop in the upper half of the brain, although they are generally beings, causing a significant number of convulsive episodes.

Germ cell tumors

They develop from cells that do not migrate during the development of the CNS to differentiate into a specific organ. Generally they will form in the interior of the encephalon, near the pineal gland and can expand towards other encephalic and medullar areas. Depending on the type of germ cell that originates it we can find teatimes, embryonic carcinomas and germinomas.


They develop in membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord, the meanings. They are usually benign and usually do not invade adjacent tissues.

Neuroectodermal primitive tumors

They usually develop from primitive or immature cells that are present during the development of NS. It can spread throughout the brain and spinal cord irregularly. There are two very common types:

  • Medulloblastomas: present in more than 25% of childhood brain tumors. They are usually generated in the brain and can spread throughout the entire spinal cord.
  • Neuroblastomas: usually develop above the adrenal glands, but can be located in other areas of the brain and spinal cord.

Vascular Tumors

They develop in the blood vessels that supply the brain and spinal cord.

Symptoms of brain and spinal tumors

As we have seen there are a wide variety of tumors, therefore the symptoms will vary depending on the location of the tumor. In addition, size and growth rate will also determine the clinical course of symptomatology (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016).

Some of the most common symptoms that may appear are (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2016):

  • Headache or headache.
  • Episodes of seizures.
  • Difficulty concentrating or talking.
  • Changes in personality.
  • Behavioral changes.
  • Weakness or paralysis of a particular part of the body or of a complete side.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Loss of vision
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Forgetfulness and memory loss.

Often these symptoms are classified depending on whether the origin is in a brain or spinal tumor (National Institute of Cancer, 2015):

  • Symptoms of brain tumors: d odor morning head relieved by vomiting; convulsive crisis; problems or difficulties of vision, hearing or speech; loss of appetite; recurrent nausea and vomiting; changes in personality, mood, behavior or ability to concentrate; loss of balance or difficulty walking; weakness and exaggerated drowsiness (National Institute of Cancer, 2015).
  • Symptoms of medullar tumors: pain in the back that expands towards the extremities; change in bowel habits or difficulty to moisturize; weakness and numbness of legs and arms; difficulty walking (National Institute of Cancer, 2015).

Causes of brain and spinal tumors

Current clinical research does not yet know the causes of the development of primary brain and spinal tumors. Some of the causes that are being investigated are: viruses, genetic mutations, exposure to chemicals or hazardous materials and disorders of the immune system (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

On the other hand, it is known that alcohol and tobacco consumption or different unhealthy dietary habits are associated with some types of cancer, but none of them has been linked to the presence of primary tumors in the central nervous system (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

There are a few patients in whom specific genetic causes have been identified: neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

Who has brain or spinal cord tumors?

Statistical estimates estimate that there may be more than 359,000 people in the US living with a diagnosis of CNS tumor. In addition, more than 195,000 new cases are diagnosed every year (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016)

In general, brain tumors are more common than spinal ones. They can occur at any age; however, are more common in middle-aged and young adults (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016)

Despite this, approximately 3,200 tumors of the central nervous system in children are diagnosed per year (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2016).

Are there risk factors for central nervous system tumors?

Some studies have shown that there are some conditions that may increase the risk of this type of tumor (Cancer Support Community, 2016):

  • Exposure to vinyl chloride.
  • Radiation.
  • Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus.
  • HIV- positive.
  • Transplantation of organs.
  • Primary lymphoma CNS.

In addition, some genetic factors have also been identified (Cancer Support Community, 2016):

  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 or 2.
  • Hippel-Lindau.
  • Tuberous sclerosis.
  • Li-Freemen syndrome.
  • Turbot syndrome type 1 and type 2.
  • Klinefelter syndrome.
  • Basal cell carcinoma syndrome.


Treatments of tumors of the central nervous system will depend on several factors: size, location, symptoms, and general health and treatment preferences. Some of the most used treatments are:

  • Surgery.
  • Radiotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy.

In some patients the combined use of these therapies is possible, while in others the exclusive use of one of them is beneficial.


Tumors of the brain and spinal cord are really heterogeneous both in form and in clinical course. They are priority pathologies in health systems as they put the patients’ lives at serious risk.

Although they tend to present an evolutionary character, current research is making important advances both in elucidating the biological bases and in their various treatments.