Cancer Types

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Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers

Together, the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). An adult CNS tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain and/or spinal cord. A tumor that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain or the spinal cord is called a metastatic CNS tumor.

The tumors may be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer):

  • Benign brain and spinal cord tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain. They rarely spread into other tissues, but sometimes recur locally.
  • Besides direct local invasion, malignant brain and spinal cord tumors develop most of their symptoms by causing swelling (edema) in the area around the tumor and causing compression of the normal tissue.

    Content adapted from the website of the National Cancer Institute (

Brain and CNS cancers we treat:

A team approach to brain and CNS cancer care

The UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute brain and CNS cancer team includes neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, neuroradiologists, pathologists, genetic counselors, rehabilitation specialists, nurses, social workers, dietitians, and others.

The team has experience with many unusual and complex cases and sees patients with advanced cancers and other complex medical problems. Team members regularly meet as a group to review imaging, pathology, and other matters unique to each patient. Together, they consider and discuss a patient's type of cancer, how advanced it is, and other conditions or personal matters that may impact treatment recommendations. Members follow National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines in developing treatment plans.

This team also includes a coordinator who helps guide patients through the ins and outs of cancer treatment and coordinates their initial visit.

Appointments and locations

Contact the coordinator to schedule appointments or ask questions beforehand. We'll work to schedule all of your appointments at the same time to make your care easier and more convenient. Most services will be at the Cancer Center and Research Institute in the Jackson Medical Mall, but we also provide cancer care on the main campus at University Hospital and the University Physicians Pavilion.

  • For appointments or questions, call our brain and CNS cancer coordinator at (601)984-5500.

Treatment options

UMMC offers the leading-edge technology and treatment for brain and CNS cancers, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials, when appropriate. We also have the only physician in the state using an electric field cap to treat glioblastoma.

Support services

Cancer can take an emotional toll on you and your family, and our job is to help you through it. Whether you need financial assistance or advice, help with a wig fitting, counseling or a support group, or any other social or medical services, your nurse coordinator can quickly connect you to the care you’re looking for.

Brain and CNS cancer stages

Before treatment begins, the team determines the type of brain or CNS cancer, the stage it is in, and how far it has progressed. If a tumor is found, doctors will determine its grade, or how abnormal the cells look, and how many are dividing. Often tumor tissue will also be sent for molecular subtyping to further refine treatment options.

If the cancer has moved beyond the location in the body where it began, doctors say it has metastasized. The brain and spine are two common sites of metastases.

Types of brain and CNS cancers

Definitions provided by the website of the National Cancer Institute (

Brain tumors

Tumors that start in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors may spread to other parts of the brain. They rarely spread to other parts of the body. 

Often, tumors found in the brain have started somewhere else in the body and spread to one or more parts of the brain. These are called metastatic brain tumors (or brain metastases). Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors.

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Central nervous system metastases

Cancer that has spread from the original (primary) tumor to the central nervous system (CNS). Also called CNS metastasis.

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Central nervous system tumors

A tumor of the central nervous system, including brain stem glioma, craniopharyngioma, medulloblastoma, and meningioma. Also called CNS tumor.

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Glioblastoma multiforme

A fast-growing type of central nervous system tumor that forms from glial (supportive) tissue of the brain and spinal cord and has cells that look very different from normal cells. Glioblastoma multiforme usually occurs in adults and affects the brain more often than the spinal cord. Also called GBM, glioblastoma, and grade IV astrocytoma.

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A type of slow-growing tumor that forms in the meninges (thin layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord). Meningiomas usually occur in adults.

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Skull base cancer

These tumors may sit just below the skull, in the area behind the eyes and nasal cavity. Sometimes they form in the area where the spinal cord, blood vessels, and nerves enter the brain. Not all tumors in this area are malignant, but having a tumor in this space can still cause some major health problems.

Cancers found at the base of the skull are extremely rare. These cancers include many which may start elsewhere in the head and grow toward the base of the skull where nerves and major blood vessels enter the brain. Or they may skim along the skull base and toward the optic nerves (behind the eyes) or temporal bone (on the side of the skull). This may also include brain cancers that grow downward. 

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Spinal cord tumors

The spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue that runs from the brain stem down the center of the back. Spinal cord nerves carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, such as a message from the brain to cause muscles to move or a message from the skin to the brain to feel touch. Primary tumors of the spinal cord are exceptionally rare. Metastases to the spine with secondary compression of the spinal cord are, unfortunately, common.

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