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Brain and Spinal Tumors
Johns Hopkins is one of the leading research and treatment centers in the world for brain and spinal tumors. At the Brain Tumor Center, experts from all specialties coordinate patient care and develop innovative treatments and clinical trials.
Brain Tumor Experts
Our brain tumor experts lead the nation's research and continue to set standards for cancer care. Multidisciplinary care teams bring individualized approaches to each patient and unparalleled experience in delivering care.
About Brain and Spinal Cancer
Until recently, little progress has been made in controlling this disease. One of the first breakthroughs in brain cancer treatment in 25 years -- the use of implantable wafers to deliver chemotherapy directly to the tumor site -- was developed at Johns Hopkins. Our physicians also employ new brain imaging technology not available elsewhere in the region to make an accurate diagnosis leading to precise treatment. Cancer found in the brain that started somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain is called brain metastasis.
Brain tumor specialists work together to diagnose the patient's type of cancer and the stage of disease. New technologies have produced breakthroughs in obtaining the crucial information. An imaging technique called WAND was developed by NASA but adapted for brain tumor diagnosis at the Kimmel Cancer Center. This technology enables the physician to "see" tumors in the skull in 3-D in real time and to pinpoint the cancer. The mathematical coordinates are used in the operating room computers to provide a blueprint for preserving surrounding tissue, thereby minimizing complications.
Additional information gathered from positron emission tomography (PET) scans can be combined with the 3-D data to differentiate a stroke from brain cancer and to determine who needs surgery and who does not. Roughly 25 percent of patients referred for brain cancer surgery are told they do not need surgery.
Please see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms: frequent headaches, vomiting, or difficulty walking or speaking.
In addition to surgery, the treatment of brain tumors often requires radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy treatments. Brain tumor patients at the Kimmel Cancer Center and Brain Tumor Center have access to many promising new therapies before they become widely available, and many new drugs for brain tumor treatment are developed and studied here. Radiation therapy is delivered by special 3-D imaging techniques, and minimally invasive stereotactic radiosurgery can be used when appropriate.
One challenge in treating cancer is being able to deliver chemotherapy to the site of the tumor, avoiding general drug treatments that may affect healthy tissue. For some patients at Johns Hopkins, a polymer wafer is left behind after brain surgery. This wafer emits a regular dose of chemotherapy that attacks only the cancer. This wafer has proven effective in shrinking brain tumors that responded to no other treatment.
The Johns Hopkins Metastatic Brain Tumor Center coordinates care for patients with metastatic tumors to the brain (tumors that begin elsewhere but spread to the brain).
New Treatment Approaches
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins plays a leading role in the search for cancer-fighting drugs. For example, we have directed a six-hospital study funded by the National Cancer Institute to investigate the effectiveness of Taxol, a breast cancer drug, and suramin, a drug first used to fight prostate cancer, in treating brain cancer. Along with other institutions across the country, the Kimmel Cancer Center is a member of the Adult Brain Tumor Consortium (ABTC). ABTC is a National Cancer Institute-funded group that collaborates on Phase I and II evaluations of promising therapies for primary central nervous system cancers.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Research
Johns Hopkins scientists are conducting research in high-grade glioma patients to measure the blood levels of cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common virus that can cause severe disease in patients with weakened immune systems. Glioma patients can experience weakened immune systems as a result of therapies like radiation, chemotherapy and high-dose steroids used to treat their cancer. The scientists will analyze whether blood levels of CMV in high-grade glioma patients currently receiving standard therapies correlate with changes in blood counts, an indicator of a therapy’s success or failure. Ultimately, the Johns Hopkins investigators hope to determine whether high-grade glioma patients should be routinely screened for CMV and if antiviral medications or treatment may have an impact on outcomes. Learn more and support this research.
Brain cancer survivors should allow extra time to recover -- your body and brain need time to heal after treatment. You may have permanent scars or hair loss, and you may not be able to resume your lifestyle activities at the same pace. Side effects of treatment may linger for months or years. You may have residual side effects including headaches, motor and sensory loss, fatigue, and difficulty with memory, speech or cognition. Always discuss any health concerns and symptoms with your doctor.
Brain tumor patients have difficulty with cognition for several reasons: the brain is taxed by the tumor, surgery, medications, radiation, and chemotherapy all in a short time. Writing down lists or tasks, or placing signs around your home reminding you to do things like lock the door and when to take your medications, can help. Ask friends or family members to help out with tasks like balancing your checkbook that might seem difficult. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice, or refer you to occupational and speech therapists for additional support if necessary.
As you recover, take charge of your health by eating healthy, exercising and reducing stress. Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol intake. Keep up with screenings for other cancers, like mammograms and colonoscopies.
The Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Brain Tumor Center is one of the largest brain tumor treatment and research centers in the world. Experts there treat an extremely large number of patients affected by all types of brain tumors and tailor the best, most advanced therapies that each unique tumor demands. There are many useful organizations to help, too. The American Brain Tumor Association to has information on brain tumor research and support groups, and a section for caregivers. The Healing Exchange Brain Trust runs a number of online support groups.