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Seizing life at last

Pam Meyer has had meningioma since childhood, but she refused to accept grand mal seizures and recurring brain tumors as her permanent state of life. Read her story.

Tumor Types

Different tumor types affecting the brain and spine

Primary tumors are those that begin in a specific part of the body, such as the brain or spine. They did not metastasize, or spread, from a different part of the body.

Although primary tumors can metastasize to other parts of the body, those of the brain and spine often do not, even if they grow quickly. If they do metastasize they usually spread only within the brain and spinal cord spaces and not to the rest of the body.

Gliomas and meningiomas

Gliomas – specifically glioblastomas – account for the majority of malignant primary brain and spine cancer in adults, while meningiomas make up the majority of non-malignant tumors. Some meningiomas can behave like malignant tumors, and some gliomas can be treated effectively and remain in remission for many years, if not cured.

Gliomas or glial tumors

Gliomas are tumors that arise from glial cells, which make up the supporting architecture of the brain and spinal cord. The most common kinds of glial cells that form tumors are:

  • Astrocytes, star-shaped glial cells that result in astrocytomas.
  • Oligodendrocytes, a cell similar to astrocytes that results in oligodendrogliomas.
  • Ependymomas, a type of glial tumor that behaves differently and is grouped separately.

Gliomas can be further divided by their appearance under the microscope, which can relate to how aggressively they behave.

Low-grade gliomas

  • Grade 1: These gliomas are found mainly in children.
  • Grade 2: These low-grade gliomas typically grow slowly.*

High-grade gliomas

  • Grade 3: These anaplastic gliomas grow at a moderate rate.*
  • Grade 4: These gliomas are glioblastomas and grow the quickest.*

*Grade 2, 3 and 4 gliomas are more likely in adults.

Infiltration

All gliomas will infiltrate, or grow, into the surrounding normal brain tissue. Microscopic clusters of tumor cells migrate away from the main body of the tumor, making it impossible to remove all of the tumor cells with surgery. These microscopic amounts of tumor cells remaining after surgery are the target of additional treatment, including radiation and/or chemotherapy.

One additional feature of lower-grade gliomas is the possibility of transformation, or changing into a more aggressive type of glioma. This is a reason for ongoing MRI monitoring after initial treatment.

Meningiomas

These are usually non-malignant, slow-growing tumors that begin in the meninges, the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. As they grow, these tumors push the normal brain structures out of their way (much like a stone in your shoe will push from the outside of your foot). Often, symptoms do not appear until many years have passed.

  • Grade 1: These meningiomas are unlikely to regrow after complete removal.
  • Grade 2: These have a somewhat higher rate of local recurrence after complete removal.
  • Grade 3: These meningiomas are malignant, grow fast and invade the local brain cells.