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Brain and Spinal Cord Cancer

Tumors can occur as either benign or malignant growths in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Benign tumors do not contain cancer cells, and often can be removed and seldom grow back. Malignant tumors contain cancer cells and are often life-threatening. Brain and spinal cord cancers often grow rapidly, invading and destroying surrounding healthy brain and nervous tissue. About 95% of the cancers occur in the brain, and the remaining 5% in the spinal cord.
Cancers of the brain and central nervous system (CNS) account for about 1% of cancer annually diagnosed in adults, but are the second most common form of cancer in children and adolescents, accounting for roughly 15% of all childhood cancer cases. The causes of brain and CNS cancer are not well understood, but appear to involve a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Excess ionizing radiation exposure to the head is a known cause, but this accounts for very few cases.
In the U.S., brain cancers occur about 25% more frequently in men than in women. Spinal cord cancers occur with about the same frequency in men and women. Brain and spinal cord cancers can occur at any age, but most are detected in persons 70 years and older. However, brain cancer is the second-most common cancer in childhood, behind leukemia. Brain and spinal cord cancer occurs more often among Whites than among persons of other race.
Scientists have not conclusively identified any particular risk factor that makes a person more likely to develop brain and spinal cord cancer. Possible risk factors include:
  • Family history of brain cancer.
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation.
You can learn about known and probable carcinogens from Known and Probable Human Carcinogens at www.cancer.org (external site).
Currently, there is no proven method or steps to take to prevent brain and spinal cord cancer. Avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation is important for the prevention of many types of cancer.
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Content updated: Thu, 10 Nov 2016 08:37:23 MST