What Is Cancer of the Nervous System?

Rebecca Mecomber

In the human body, the nervous system is divided into two sections: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. The PNS constitutes all the other nerves connected to the spinal cord radiating out into the body, as well as nerve cells and connective tissues. Cancer of the nervous system involves tumors that form in one or more parts of the nervous system. Tumors can affect the body in numerous ways, because the nervous system enables the body to process sensory information through chemical signaling, process thought and reasoning, move muscles through electrical signaling, provide speech and perform many other bodily functions.

Types of neurons.
Types of neurons.

Nervous system cancer is the second leading type of cancer in children, after leukemia. Gliomas, which are cancers that afflict the brain stem, are the most common types of cancers accounting for 45 percent of all brain cancers. Ependymomas are tumors that form in the brain cells that produce and store cerebrospinal fluid; these tumors usually form on the top or back of the head. Oncologists differentiate the various types of brain tumors based on the location of the tumor in the brain. For example, tumors that develop in the pineal section of the brain are called pineoblastomas.

The brain is part of the central nervous system.
The brain is part of the central nervous system.

Cancer of the nervous system might affect the eye. Cancer that affects the retina is called retinoblastoma, and cancer that affects the optic nerve is known as optic nerve glioma. Neuroblastomas are cancer cells located in the adrenal medulla nerve cells of the body or other nervous system tissues such as the adrenal glands, around the spinal cord or in the abdomen. Other types of cancers are craniopharyngioma, intracranial germ cell tumor and astrocytoma, among others.

Brain cancers are far more common than cancers that originate in the brain stem.
Brain cancers are far more common than cancers that originate in the brain stem.

Diagnosis of cancer of the nervous system might be difficult at first, because symptoms of cancer mimic common ailments: headache, vomiting, nausea or drowsiness. More obvious signs of cancer of the nervous system include double vision, memory or speech loss, localized weakness, severe headaches and seizures. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for successful recovery.

The central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord, receives and transmits signals to the nerves in the peripheral nervous system, which is composed of the nerves in the organs and muscles of the body.
The central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord, receives and transmits signals to the nerves in the peripheral nervous system, which is composed of the nerves in the organs and muscles of the body.

Treatments for cancer of the nervous system usually involve surgery for the removal of tumors. Brain cancers are much more common than spinal cord cancers, and they rarely spread to other parts of the body. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy treat and control metastatic tumors from other areas of the body, such as the lung or breast, to prevent cancer cells from afflicting the brain.

Cancer of the nervous system may involve brain tumors.
Cancer of the nervous system may involve brain tumors.
Cancer of the nervous system might affect the eye.
Cancer of the nervous system might affect the eye.

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