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  • Grading brain and spinal cord tumours


    Grading brain and spinal cord tumours

    The grade describes the rate at which tumours grow and the likeliness or ability to spread into nearby tissue. Most brain and spinal cord tumours don’t spread in the body. However, your medical team may need to do other tests to check if the cancer has spread (e.g. CT or MRI scans, or checking the cerebrospinal fluid).

    Other tests to determine the type of tumour may also be used to predict how a tumour will grow.

    Brain and spinal cord tumours are usually given a grade on a scale of 1–4. The grade is worked out by looking at the tumour cells and comparing them to normal cells.


    Prognosis means the expected outcome of a disease. You may wish to discuss your prognosis and treatment options with your doctor, but it is not possible for any doctor to predict the exact course of your disease.

    There are many factors that may affect your prognosis. These include tumour type, location of the tumour, grade, age, family history and your general health.

    Both benign and malignant tumours can be life-threatening, but you may have a better prognosis if the tumour is benign or low-grade, or if a surgeon is able to remove the entire tumour.

    Some brain or spinal cord tumours, particularly gliomas, can come back (recur). In this case, treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be used to control the growth of the tumour for as long as possible, relieve symptoms, and improve quality of life.

    To determine your prognosis, your doctor will consider:

    • test results
    • the type of cancer you have
    • the rate and depth of tumour growth
    • how well you respond to treatment
    • other factors such as age, fitness and medical history.

    Prognosis of children with brain or spinal cord tumours

    The outcome for your child depends on the type of tumour they have, its location and grade, treatment, and other factors such as their overall health. A significant number of children with a brain or spinal cord tumour will recover completely. In general, children who are diagnosed with a malignant tumour will have a better outlook than adults. Other children have treatment that controls their tumour for many years.

    Because a child’s nervous system is still developing, some children may develop a physical, behavioural or learning disability as a result of their tumour or treatment.

    Talk to your child’s medical team about the treatment options, what to expect, and any concerns you have.

    Which health professionals will I see?

    If your GP or another doctor suspects you have a brain or spinal cord tumour, they will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. You will then be referred to a neurologist, neuro-oncologist or a neurosurgeon, who will examine you and may do more tests and advise you about your treatment options.

    You will be cared for by a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your treatment. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT). The MDT will probably include some or all of the health professionals listed below.

    This website page was last reviewed and updated October 2017.

    Information last reviewed May 2016 by: A/Prof Matthew Foote, Associate Professor, University of Queensland and Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Jason Papacostas, Neurosurgeon, Mater Private Hospital, QLD; Dr Dianne Clifton, Psychiatrist and Coordinator of Education, Psychosocial Cancer Care and Palliative Care, St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC; A/Prof Georgia Halkett, Assocaite Professor, Senior Research Fellow, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University, WA; Lawrence Cher, Neurologist and Neuro-oncologist, Olivia Newton John Cancer & Wellness Centre, Austin Hospital, VIC; Kate Brennan, Occupational Therapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Vivien Biggs, Neuro-oncology nurse practitioner, Briz Brain & Spine, QLD; Lindy Cohn, 13 11 20 advisor, Cancer Council NSW, NSW; Ms Dianne Legge, Brain Tumour Support Officer, Cancer Services, Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre, Austin Hospital, VIC; Russ Talbot, consumer, SA.

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