Brain and Spine Cancer
Brain and spine tumors affect thousands of people each year. Primary brain and spine tumors arise from abnormal cells inside the brain or spine itself. Secondary, or metastatic, tumors start in other areas of the body and then spread to the brain and spine.
Primary brain and spinal cord tumors most commonly arise from glial cells, which nourish and support neuron cells. Primary nervous system tumors are graded, based on how aggressive they are, on a scale of I-IV.
Regardless of your diagnosis, our brain and spine tumor experts provide thoughtful, prompt, and effective treatment to help you heal.
Why Choose Englewood Health for Brain Cancer Care?
Unlike other community hospitals, Englewood Health offers comprehensive therapy for all types of brain and spinal tumors. Our neuro-oncology team at The Lefcourt Family Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center specializes in innovative treatments usually found only at major medical centers. When you come to Englewood Health for brain and spine cancer treatment, you benefit from:
- Board-certified and fellowship-trained doctors who specialize exclusively in brain and spinal tumors
- Distinguished neurological and skull base/sinus surgeons who specialize in minimally invasive surgical procedures
- Image-guided surgery planning and radiation technologies, including BrainLab and Stealth systems
- Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) using advanced technologies including the Varian TrueBeam® radiotherapy system
- 24/7 on-call support from your healthcare team for any questions or concerns you have throughout the treatment process
- Patient navigators who help you make appointments and facilitate communication between you and your healthcare team
- A community-oriented, nurturing atmosphere designed to help you stay as comfortable as possible
We also offer access to leading-edge research studies. In many cases, these studies provide you with the opportunity to try new therapies, backed by the latest evidence.
Brain Cancer Risk Factors
In most cases, there is not one specific reason why a person develops a brain or spinal cord tumor. But these risk factors make brain or spine cancer more likely:
- Being male
- Exposure of the head or spine to radiation
- Exposure to certain chemicals or compounds found in pesticides, oil products, and cigarette smoke
- Family history of brain or spinal tumors
- Infection with certain viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus
- Older age, although people of all ages develop brain and spinal tumors
Brain Cancer Symptoms
In some cases, brain cancer symptoms start gradually and worsen over time. In others, symptoms appear suddenly and interfere greatly with normal life.
Often, brain cancer symptoms result from increased pressure inside the skull called intracranial pressure. Symptoms related to increased intracranial pressure may include:
- Balance problems
- Blurred vision
- Changes in personality, mood, or ability to think clearly
- Nausea and vomiting
If you experience any of these symptoms, let your doctor know immediately. Early detection of brain and spinal tumors helps make successful recovery more likely.
Brain Cancer Screening and Diagnosis
There is no single screening test for brain or spinal cancers. Doctors initially find most brain tumors when patients come to them with suggestive symptoms.
If your doctor suspects a brain tumor based on your symptoms, he or she will likely recommend several diagnostic tests. These tests may include:
- Computerized tomography (CT): CT scans combine a series of X-ray images to form precise images of soft tissues, including the brain.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Using strong magnetic fields and radio waves, MRIs produce detailed three-dimensional (3D) pictures of the brain and spinal cord.
- Positron emission tomography (PET): Before this procedure, doctors inject a small amount of radioactive sugar into your bloodstream. This sugar collects in tumors, highlighting them on images.
In many cases, doctors must perform surgery to obtain tissue samples from suspected brain tumors for further testing. Your doctor may suggest:
- Craniotomy: Inside the operating room, surgeons open the skull to remove some or all of a tumor. The latest software, including Stealth and BrainLab Neuronavigation, helps surgeons safely remove tumor tissue while preserving the surrounding healthy brain.
- Stereotactic biopsy: Using advanced imaging techniques, neurosurgeons make a small scalp incision and opening in the skull to access the brain. Then, surgeons remove a small sample of a brain tumor for further testing by our in-house pathology team.
Brain Cancer Treatment
Diagnosing and treating brain and spinal tumors takes a team effort. Our brain cancer treatment team meets every week to review your test results, plan your treatment, and manage any other issues you may have.
We’ve organized the way we provide care so that you access all your doctors at the same time, during the same visit, in one convenient location. When you visit, you’ll meet with specialists from several medical disciplines, such as:
- Neuro-oncologists, who use their brain cancer expertise to create and guide your treatment plan
- Medical oncologists, who have experience managing cancer in its various forms
- Pathologists, who test tumors and suggest treatments based on the unique cellular features of the cancer
- Neuroradiologists, who plan and provide radiation therapy to the brain and spinal cord
- Neurosurgeons, who use their skill and expertise to plan and perform surgery to safely remove brain and spinal tumors
Englewood Health offers many of the same brain tumor treatments available at major medical centers.
Brain Tumor Surgery Options
Many brain and spinal tumors are most effectively treated with surgery. Our skilled neurosurgeons use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible to preserve brain and spine function while removing tumors.
Before or during your procedure, your surgeon may take advantage of our brain-mapping capabilities. This highly innovative procedure, performed while you are asleep or awake, actually maps out functional areas of your brain. Then, surgeons use this information to plan the safest routes through the brain to remove tumor tissue.
Our surgeons perform several types of procedures to remove brain tumors, including:
- Craniotomy: Surgeons open the scalp and skull to remove tumors from the brain. Our surgeons excel at a specialized procedure known as awake craniotomy. Patients regain consciousness at a specific point in surgery to test the brain for different functions. This real-time feedback helps surgeons avoid healthy brain tissue during surgery.
- Endoscopic surgery: Some brain tumors, such as pituitary tumors, are most easily accessed through the nose and sinus cavities. Using minimally sized endoscopic equipment, neurosurgeons and skull base surgeons can access brain tumors through small openings in the sinuses.
- Fluorescence-guided surgery: Our surgeons were the first in New Jersey to perform fluorescence-guided brain surgery. Before surgery, you ingest an oral fluorescent compound (5-ALA). This compound causes brain tumor cells to light up under a microscope. This technique helps surgeons better visualize brain tumors, preserving healthy brain tissue while removing cancerous cells.
- Minimally invasive surgery: In some cases, minimally invasive surgery allows surgeons to safely remove tumors through a single tiny incision. Your doctor may recommend keyhole surgery, which hides a small incision in the eyebrow to help preserve your appearance.
Radiotherapy for Brain Tumors
Englewood Health offers stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for brain and spinal tumors. Our doctors use the Varian TrueBeam® radiotherapy system. This advanced technology helps us deliver the most precise treatment possible. This extreme accuracy targets the tumor and protects normal tissues from harm during treatment. It is not unusual to only need a single dose, making your treatment more convenient.
Other Brain Cancer Treatments and Services
In some cases, doctors recommend other treatments to help maximize your chances for a successful outcome, including:
- Chemotherapy: Doctors inject anti-cancer drugs into your bloodstream to attack and destroy brain and spinal tumor cells. Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy after diagnosing a secondary, or malignant, brain or spinal tumor.
- Hormone therapy: Tumors affecting the pituitary gland, located deep within the brain, may result in hormone imbalances. In many cases, doctors prescribe hormone therapy to help regulate hormone production inside your body.
- Immunotherapy: This relatively new form of cancer treatment uses specific medications and compounds to target structures inside cancer cells. In some cases, these targeted therapies work when other treatments, such as chemotherapy, don’t.
- Medications: Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help manage symptoms, treatment side effects, and other issues you may experience.
Support Services for Brain Cancer
Brain and spine cancer specialists at The Lefcourt Family Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center at Englewood Health work closely with our patient support programs. Together, we help you find ways to manage stress and anxiety while you undergo treatment.
Some brain and spine tumors are genetically programmed to affect entire families. Our genetic counselors meet with at-risk individuals as part of our risk-assessment program. We help your family make a plan to lower their cancer risk and stay as healthy as possible.
Managing a brain tumor can be incredibly stressful. To help you cope, we offer evidence-based complementary wellness services under the oversight of a medical doctor. Experts at the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine offer a variety of services, such as acupuncture, meditation, and yoga.
Proper nutrition is essential for staying strong during cancer treatment. Also, a diet rich in nutrients may actually help make treatment more effective. Our registered dietitians help you design an eating plan to maximize your health and promote healing.
Some standard brain and spine cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, may cause unpleasant side effects. Our palliative medicine team helps you manage troublesome symptoms and stay as comfortable as possible.
At Englewood Health, our patient navigators assist you from the first time we meet you. Your patient navigator helps by:
- Answering your questions about brain cancer diagnosis and treatment
- Connecting you with community resources outside Englewood Health
- Ensuring you communicate easily and clearly with your healthcare team
- Scheduling many of your appointments
- Providing emotional support
There are many support groups outside Englewood Health for people living with brain and spinal tumors. Our support services team connects you with resources designed for patients, family members, and caregivers.