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Brain cancer and radiation


The brain controls many body functions, including speech, hearing, movement, thoughts, memory, vision and more. Brain cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells form within the tissues of the brain. Any tumor that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain is considered metastatic cancer. Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors. Some cancers that commonly spread to the brain include lung, melanoma, colon, breast, and kidney cancers.

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About brain cancer

Brain and spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that have grown out of control. In most other parts of the body, it is very important to distinguish between benign (non-cancerous) tumors and malignant tumors (cancers). Benign tumors do not grow into nearby tissues or spread to distant areas, so in other parts of the body they are almost never life-threatening. One of the main reasons malignant tumors are so dangerous is because they can spread throughout the body.

Although brain tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body, most of them can spread through the brain tissue. Even so-called benign tumors can, as they grow, press on and destroy normal brain tissue, causing damage that is often disabling and sometimes fatal.

Brain and spinal cord tumors tend to be different in adults and children. They often form in different areas, develop from different cell types, and may have a different outlook and treatment.

At MRO, we understand the uncertainty and uniqueness that comes with a brain cancer diagnosis. Our oncologists and supportive care teams are committed to helping you understand the complexities of the disease and how radiation treatment may help with your cancer. Our MRO oncologists offer a level of expertise that comes from working exclusively with radiation cancer treatments and patients every day. 

Overall, the chance that a person will develop a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in his or her lifetime is less than 1%. The risk for men is slightly higher than that for women, although certain types of tumors are more common in women.

Types of brain cancer

Primary brain tumors are tumors that form from cells within the brain. The tumors are categorized by the type of cell in which it first develops. According to the National Brain Tumor Society, there are over 120 different types of brain tumors. The most common primary brain tumors are called gliomas, which originate in the glial (supportive) tissue. About one third of all primary brain tumors and other nervous system tumors form from glial cells.

Aside from tumors in the brain, cancer can begin in, or spread to, other areas of the central nervous system, such as the spinal cord or column, or the peripheral nerves. Cancer that develops in the spinal cord or its surrounding structures is called spinal cancer. Most tumors of the spine are metastatic tumors, which have spread to the spine from another location in the body.

Radiation treatment options

Radiation therapy can be used to destroy brain tumor cells and to relieve symptoms caused by a tumor. At MRO we use highly targeted radiation therapy treatments that allow us to increase the dose and precision of radiation to a brain tumor, while minimizing damage to healthy brain tissue.

Brain tumors can be treated by several different radiation methods:

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT), which includes both 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)

Newer methods of precise localization are being used. For example, image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses a CT scan done just before each treatment to better guide the radiation to its target.