What are brain and spinal cord tumors?

Spinal cord tumors are growths that affect the spinal cord. These tumors can be noncancerous (also called benign tumors) or cancerous (also called malignant tumors). Tumors can also occur in the spinal bones. Tumors that originate in spinal tissue are called primary tumors. Tumors that spread to the spine from another part of the body are called secondary tumors.

These tumors are found in the tissue inside the skull or the bony spinal column, which make up the central nervous system (CNS). A tumor is a mass of cells that forms a new growth or is present at birth (congenital). A tumor occurs when the genes that regulate cell growth become damaged or mutated, allowing cells to grow and divide out of control. It can form anywhere in the body.

Depending on the type, a growing tumor can kill healthy cells or disrupt their function. It can move or press on sensitive tissue and block the flow of blood and other fluid, causing pain and inflammation. A tumor can also block the normal flow of electricity in the brain or nerve signaling to and from the brain. Some tumors cause no trouble at all.

There are more than 120 types of brain and spinal cord tumors. Some are named by the type of cell in which they start (such as glioma) or location (such as meningioma, which form in the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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