Survival rates brain tumor

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the number of people who are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year. You will also read general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. Use the menu to see other pages.

A primary brain or spinal cord tumor is a tumor that starts in the brain or spinal cord. This year, an estimated 23,820 adults (13,410 men and 10,410 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with primary cancerous tumors of the brain and spinal cord. Brain tumors account for 85% to 90% of all primary CNS tumors.

Also, about 3,720 children under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with a brain or CNS tumor this year. This rest of this guide deals with adult primary brain tumors. Learn about brain tumors in children.

In addition to primary brain tumors, there are also secondary brain tumors or brain metastases. This is when the tumor started somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain. The most common cancers that spread to the brain are bladder, breast, kidney, and lung cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma. This guide covers primary adult brain tumors only.

Brain and other nervous system cancer is the 10th leading cause of death for men and women. It is estimated that 17,760 adults (9,910 men and 7,850 women) will die from primary cancerous brain and CNS tumors this year.

The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the tumor is found. Percent means how many out of 100. The 5-year survival rate for people with a cancerous brain or CNS tumor is approximately 34% for men and 36% for women. However, survival rates vary widely and depend on several factors, including the type of brain or spinal cord tumor. Talk with your doctor about what to expect with your diagnosis.

It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with a brain tumor are an estimate. The estimate comes from annual data based on the number of people with this tumor in the United States. Also, experts measure the survival statistics every 5 years. So the estimate may not show the results of better diagnosis or treatment available for less than 5 years. People should talk with their doctor if they have questions about this information. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the 2018 Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States Fact Sheet, the American Cancer Society’s publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2019, and the National Cancer Institute (January 2019).

The next section in this guide is Risk Factors. It explains the factors that may increase the chance of developing a brain tumor. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.

What Are the Chances of Surviving Brain Cancer?

Doctor’s Response

So sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but it’s good you’ve caught it early. The major factor(s) that influence brain cancer survival is related to the following: the type of cancer, its location, whether it can be surgically removed or reduced, and the age and overall health status of the patient.

  • The long-term survival rate (life expectancy greater than five years) for people with primary brain cancer varies. In cases of aggressive or high-grade brain cancers it is from less than 10% to about 32%, despite aggressive surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments.
  • Treatments do prolong survival over the short term and, perhaps more importantly, improve quality of life for some time, although this time period can vary greatly.
  • Radiation after surgery may increase a patient’s expected survival as compared to not receiving it at all. Chemotherapy can further extend life for some patients when given during and/or after radiation therapy.
  • People who have continuing seizures which are difficult to control even with medications generally do poorly over the following six months.

Despite seemingly dismal chances of long-term survival, these chances are clearly greater with treatment than without. Treatment options and best-estimated prognosis should be discussed with the patient’s cancer team.

Fight the fight: Surviving a deadly brain cancer prognosis as a mom-to-be

When I received the initial call from MD Anderson asking me if I would be interested in writing about my cancer journey, I had to laugh because my brain does not operate the way it used to.
As a former trial attorney, I could intelligently write 500 words in just a few minutes. This blog post took me more than a month to write and it has been difficult and frustrating. But in writing my story, I have found I’m happy to hold a pen in my hand again.
So, one more thank you to MD Anderson and those who have supported me along the way. Because of you, I am here to share my story.
2002 was the most amazing year of my life.
In a short sweep of time I got engaged, turned 30, graduated from The University of Texas School of Law, passed the Texas Bar, got married, spent a month in Europe on my honeymoon, started my new legal career in a boutique trial law firm and became a mom-to-be.
My life had come full circle — everything that I had worked so hard for, dreamed of and prayed for had all finally came true.
During this time, I paid no attention to the daily headaches I was experiencing — Tylenol had become my everyday regimen — until Christmas Day. My husband and I were celebrating with my family in Virginia. It was a tough time because my grandmother had just passed away and the pain in my head was the worst it had ever been. It was so unbearable that after Christmas dinner I fell to the floor and could not get up. My devoted husband and my loving father took me to the local hospital, worried about me and the baby I was carrying.
Test after test at the Virginia hospital showed that everything looked normal. The doctor decided to do one final imaging test called a CT scan before sending me home. The results changed my life forever.
Putting up a fight
The scan showed a baseball-sized tumor in the lower left lobe of my brain. Immediately, the doctors diagnosed it as an advanced (grade 4) glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), one of the worst and most aggressive brain cancers. I was told that I had three months to live, and the odds of my child being born were slim to none.
Despite the doctor’s grim prognosis, I remember sitting in the hospital thinking that I was not going to die and neither was my child. We found out we were having a baby boy and we named him. The mother in me knew I had to fight.
We kindly told the doctor that we would be heading back home to Houston, to the only place we wanted to go for treatment: MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Are you ready?
On Dec. 27 we had our first appointment at MD Anderson in the Brain and Spine Center with Raymond Sawaya, M.D., chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery.
My tumor was located in the area of the brain that controls one’s ability to speak, read and write, as well as short-term memory. My husband spoke to Dr. Sawaya, showing him my CT scan and telling him about our visit in the Virginia hospital, including the doctor’s prognosis that I had three months to live.
Dr. Sawaya said nothing.
He turned to me, put his hand on my knee, looked me straight in the eye and asked the most incredible question I have ever been asked, “Are you ready to fight the fight?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Finally, I was surrounded by hope and an opportunity to see my son live.
Celebrating 10 years
After years of surgery, radiation, and a trifecta of chemotherapy, I look forward to celebrate this Christmas Day watching my 9-year-old open his presents. I am one lucky lady.
My family and I did not believe that three months was acceptable, so we turned to the right place at the right time. The hope and attention I received from Dr. Sawaya and the neuro-oncology team at MD Anderson was nothing but fantastic.
Don’t ever forget to fight the fight and don’t look back!

The Odds of Surviving a Spinal Cord or Brain Tumor

When you are diagnosed with a serious illness, like a spinal cord or brain tumor, learning about survival rates and prognosis for your condition can make you panic even more. But, it’s important to keep in mind that survival rates are simply statistics; they do not apply to one specific person.

Statistics are gathered about a group of patients with a certain disorder, such as a brain tumor, within a certain time frame. In general, to get an accurate statistic it’s necessary to have a relatively large group of people. But spinal cord and brain tumors are very rare forms of cancer, accounting for less than 2 percent of all cancers. This small number of patients makes it difficult for statisticians to gather and analyze information.

In addition, there are more than 120 types of brain tumors, making an already difficult job harder. So, while it is important to know about survival rates for spinal cord and brain tumors, don’t rely too heavily on the numbers. Your situation may be different.

The best source for specific information for your individual prognosis is your own doctor. Have a candid discussion with your doctor about your long-term outlook.

Brain Tumor Prognosis: The Stats

As you read the rates below, remember that these numbers are not guarantees, but a general idea of the severity of some types of brain tumors.

Based on information collected from 2000 to 2004, for people diagnosed with a primary malignant brain and spinal cord tumor (including lymphoma and leukemia, tumors of the pituitary and pineal glands, and tumors of the nose), the five-year survival rates are 28.8 percent for males and 31.6 percent for females. A five-year survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are still alive five years following a diagnosis.

When those five-year survival rates were further broken down by age at diagnosis, the relative survival rates were:

  • Age 0 to 19 years: 66.0 percent
  • Age 20 to 24 years: 49.2 percent
  • Age 45 to 54 years: 24.0 percent
  • Age 55 to 64 years: 11.1 percent
  • Age 65 to 74 years: 6.7 percent
  • Age 75 or older: 4.7 percent

A relative survival rate refers to survival odds compared with other U.S. citizens within the same category who do not have a malignant tumor.

Brain Tumor: Survival Rates for Meningiomas

People with meningiomas, the most common form of brain tumor, had a five-year survival rate of 69 percent. When broken down further, survival rate for people with benign (non-cancerous) meningiomas was 70 percent but, for people with malignant (cancerous) meningiomas, the rate was 55 percent.

Brain Tumor: Survival Rates for Glioblastomas

About 19 percent of all primary brain tumors are glioblastomas, the most common type of cancerous brain tumors.

People with glioblastomas had very low relative survival rates: Less than 4 percent lived five years after diagnosis. The survival rate for some children and adolescents may be up to 25 percent if surgery is effective, but since this is not common, most children with glioblastomas have the same odds as adults.

Brain Tumor: Gender and Race

As a rule, men get more brain tumors than women, for reasons that are not clear. But, women get more tumors of certain types.

  • Women get three times as many tumors of the meninges (the tissues that cover the spinal cord and brain) as men.
  • Olfactory tumors of the naval cavity are slightly more common in women.
  • Tumors of the cranial nerves (which carry messages between the brain and body parts) are also slightly more common in women.
  • Tumors of the pituitary gland (which helps regulate the thyroid) occur in about 12 percent more women than men.

Overall, Caucasians get more brain tumors, such as glioblastoma, than African-Americans; about twice as many. But African-Americans get more tumors of the meninges. The cause of this disparity is not known.

Reasons to be Hopeful

There are good reasons to be hopeful about the prognosis for spinal cord and brain tumors. Brain tumors are an important research topic; a search on the for adult glioblastoma clinical trials turned up 249 trials that are recruiting patients.

Progress is also being made in the operating room. “Because of new techniques and technology, neurosurgeons can see, reach, and remove tumors that we could never reach before,” says Andrew Sloan, MD, director of the Brain Tumor and Neuro-oncology Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “We are making a great deal of progress.”

Brain Tumor: More Information

A good source for spinal cord and brain tumor survival rates is the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program (SEER) Cancer Statistics Review (CSR), which reports statistics regarding cancer and is published annually by the Cancer Statistics Branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Brain Tumors

Brain Tumor Treatment

Brain tumors (whether primary or metastatic, benign or malignant) usually are treated with surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy — alone or in various combinations. While it is true that radiation and chemotherapy are used more often for malignant, residual or recurrent tumors, decisions as to what treatment to use are made on a case-by-case basis and depend on a number of factors. There are risks and side effects associated with each type of therapy.

Surgery

It is generally accepted that complete or nearly complete surgical removal of a brain tumor is beneficial for a patient. The neurosurgeon’s challenge is to remove as much tumor as possible, without injuring brain tissue important to the patient’s neurological function (such as the ability to speak, walk, etc.). Traditionally, neurosurgeons open the skull through a craniotomy to insure they can access the tumor and remove as much of it as possible. A drain (EVD) may be left in the brain fluid cavities at the time of surgery to drain the normal brain fluid as the brain recovers from the surgery.

Another procedure that is commonly performed, sometimes before a craniotomy, is called a stereotactic biopsy. This smaller operation allows doctors to obtain tissue in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Usually, a frame is attached to the patient’s head, a scan is obtained, and then the patient is taken to the operating area, where a small hole is drilled in the skull to allow access to the abnormal area. Based on the location of the lesion, some hospitals may do this same procedure without the use of a frame. A small sample is obtained for examination under the microscope.

In the early 1990s, computerized devices called surgical navigation systems were introduced. These systems assisted the neurosurgeon with guidance, localization and orientation for tumors. This information reduced the risks and improved the extent of tumor removal. In many cases, surgical navigation systems allowed previously inoperable tumors to be excised with acceptable risks. Some of these systems also can be used for biopsies without having to attach a frame to the skull. One limitation of these systems is that they utilize a scan (CT or MRI) obtained prior to surgery to guide the neurosurgeon. Thus, they cannot account for movements of the brain that may occur intraoperatively. Investigators are developing techniques using ultrasound and performing surgery in MRI scanners to help update the navigation system data during surgery.

Intraoperative language mapping is considered by some as a critically important technique for patients with tumors affecting language function, such as large, dominant-hemisphere gliomas. This procedure involves operating on a conscious patient and mapping the anatomy of their language function during the operation. The doctor then decides which portions of the tumor are safe to resect. Recent studies have determined that cortical language mapping may be used as a safe and efficient adjunct to optimize glioma resection while preserving essential language sites.

Ventriculoperitoneal shunting may be required for some patients with brain tumors. Everyone has cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the brain and spine that is slowly circulating all the time. If this flow becomes blocked, the sacs that contain the fluid (the ventricles) can become enlarged, creating increased pressure within the head, resulting in a condition called hydrocephalus. If left untreated, hydrocephalus can cause brain damage and even death. The neurosurgeon may decide to use a shunt to divert the spinal fluid away from the brain and, therefore, reduce the pressure. The body cavity in which the CSF is diverted usually is the peritoneal cavity (the area surrounding the abdominal organs). The shunt usually is permanent. If it becomes blocked, the symptoms are similar to that of the original condition of hydrocephalus and may include headaches, vomiting, visual problems and/or confusion or lethargy, among others. Another method that may be used to control obstruction of the brain fluid pathways is called an Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy. This helps the brain fluid be diverted around the obstruction without the need for a shunt.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and abnormal brain cells and to shrink tumors. Radiation therapy may be an option if the tumor cannot be treated effectively through surgery.

  • Standard External Beam Radiotherapy uses a variety of radiation beams to create a conformal coverage of the tumor while limiting the dose to surrounding normal structures. The risk of long-term radiation injury with modern delivery methods is very low. Newer techniques of delivery aside from 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3DCRT) include intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT).
  • Proton Beam Treatment employs a specific type of radiation in which protons, a form of radioactivity, are directed specifically to the tumor. The advantage is that less tissue surrounding the tumor incurs damage.
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery (such as Gamma Knife, Novalis and Cyberknife) is a technique that focuses the radiation with many different beams on the target tissue. This treatment tends to incur less damage to tissues adjacent to the tumor. Currently, there is no data to suggest one delivery system is superior to another in terms of clinical outcome, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy generally is considered to be effective for specific pediatric tumors, lymphomas and some oligodendrogliomas. While it has been proven that chemotherapy improves overall survival in patients with the most malignant primary brain tumors, it does so in only in about 20 percent of all patients, and physicians cannot readily predict which patients will benefit before treatment. As such, some physicians choose not to use chemotherapy because of the potential side effects (lung scarring, suppression of the immune system, nausea, etc.).

Chemotherapy works by inflicting cell damage that is better repaired by normal tissue than tumor tissue. Resistance to chemotherapy might involve survival of tumor tissue that cannot respond to the drug, or the inability of the drug to pass from the bloodstream into the brain. A special barrier exists between the bloodstream and the brain tissue called the blood-brain barrier. Some investigators have tried to improve the effect of chemotherapy by disrupting this barrier or by injecting the drug into the tumor or brain. The goal of another class of drugs is not to kill the tumor cells but, rather, to block further tumor growth. In some cases, growth modifiers (such as breast cancer treatment drug Tamoxifen) have been used to attempt to stop the growth of tumors resistant to other treatments.

In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of chemotherapy-impregnated wafers, which can be applied by the neurosurgeon at the time of surgery. The wafers slowly secrete the drug into the tumor, and the patient receives chemotherapy with the systemic side effects of treatment.

Visualase

Laser Thermal Ablation is a newer technique that some centers are using to treat smaller tumors particularly in areas that may be more difficult to reach using previous open surgery procedures. This involves placing a tiny catheter within the lesion, possibly completing a biopsy, then using laser to thermally ablate the lesion. This technique is only more recently used in brain tumor treatments, therefore the long term efficacy has not been established.

Investigational Therapies

Many types of new therapies currently are being studied, especially on tumors for which the prognosis is generally poor through existing conventional therapies. It is unknown whether these therapies will work. Such therapies are given according to a protocol and include various forms of immunotherapy, therapy using targeted toxins, anti-angiogenesis therapy, gene therapy and differentiation therapy. Combinations of treatments also may be able to improve the outlook for patients, while lowering the adverse side effects.

The AANS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products or physicians referenced in these patient fact sheets. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific neurosurgical advice or assistance should consult his or her neurosurgeon, or locate one in your area through the AANS’ Find a Board-certified Neurosurgeon”online tool.

Brain Tumor Facts & Figures, May 2018: Incidence, Mortality, and Survival in 2018

Our monthly series called “Brain Tumor Facts & Figures” will provide information and data that can help you in your advocacy, fundraising, and awareness-raising efforts by presenting statistics that can help convey the difficult realities our community is up against. These can be used to make a case for support to your members of Congress, state legislators, family, friends, co-workers, and other members of your community and network.

For a full breakdown of all the standard brain tumor statistics and facts, one can always view our Brain Tumors Quick Facts webpage.

For our first few installments of this series, we’ve focused on some unique and different brain tumor facts and stats that more in-depth than the more basic figures about brain tumors – how many are diagnosed every year, survival rates, etc. – to include facts on things like cost-of-care and Years of Potential Life Lost.

But for Brain Tumor Awareness Month this May, it seemed appropriate to once again share those key, top-line figures that provide a sense of how many individuals are impacted by this disease in the United States.

So today, we look at incidence rates, new cases, mortality, and survival rates for brain tumors in America in 2018. All figures are from the latest report from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (cbtrus.org):

The Measure: Incidence rates

What it Means: The number of instances of illness commencing, or of persons falling ill, during a given period in a specified population.

Current Brain Tumor Incidence Rate: The incidence rate of all primary malignant and non-malignant brain and CNS tumors in 22.64 cases per 100,000 Americans for a total count of 379,848 incidences of brain tumors during the most recent time-frame measured – 2010-2014.

The Measure: Estimated new cases

What it Means: The estimated number of new diagnoses of a disease in a given year.

Estimated New Cases of Brain Tumors in 2018: It is estimated that 78,980 new cases of primary malignant and non-malignant brain tumor and other CNS tumors will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018. This includes an estimated 23,830 primary malignant brain tumors, and 55,150 non-malignant brain tumors.

The Measure: Mortality

What it Means: An estimate of the proportion of a population that dies during a specified period.

Current Brain Tumor Mortality Rate: The average annual mortality rate of brain tumors in the United States between 2010-2014 was 4.33 per 100,000 Americans, with 75,271 deaths attributed to primary brain and CNS tumors during this time. An estimated 16,616 deaths will be attributed to primary brain and CNS tumors in the United States in 2018.

The Measure: Survival rates

What it Means: A way of comparing the survival of people who have a specific disease with those who don’t, over a certain period of time. This is usually five years from the date of diagnosis or the start of treatment for those with the disease. It is calculated by dividing the percentage of patients with the disease who are still alive at the end of the period of time by the percentage of people in the general population of the same sex and age who are alive at the end of the same time period. The relative survival rate shows whether the disease shortens life.

Survival Rates for Brain Tumor Patients in 2018: The five-year relative survival rate in the United States following a diagnosis of a primary malignant brain and other CNS tumors is only 34.9%. Even for primary non-malignant brain tumors, the five-year relative survival rate in the United States is only 90.47%.

Together, these statistics show the straight-forward, overall impact that brain tumors have on Americans. Too many people in the United States are affected by brain tumors and we are losing far too many loved ones to this disease. With your support, we are working to change that. So, to join the fight and take action against brain tumors during the remainder of Brain Tumor Awareness Month, 2018 – and, indeed, all year long – please check out ways to get involved, here.

Survival rates in patients with primary malignant brain tumors stratified by patient age and tumor histological type: an analysis based on Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data, 1973–1991

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Spinal Cord Tumors

What Is It?

Published: February, 2019

The spinal cord, which lies protected inside the spine (backbones), contains bundles of nerves that transmit messages between the brain and the nerves throughout the body. A tumor on or near the spinal cord can disrupt this communication, impair function and seriously threaten health.

Spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells that grow in the spinal cord, between its protective sheaths, or on the surface of the sheath that covers the spinal cord. Primary spinal cord tumors develop within the spinal cord rather than spreading from other parts of the body. These primary tumors usually are noncancerous (benign) and even the cancerous ones rarely spread to other parts of the body.

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Spinal cancer

Spinal cancer grades

Making an educated decision on how to treat spinal cancer begins with determining the grade of the disease. Our cancer doctors use a variety of diagnostic tests to evaluate spinal cancer. If you have been recently diagnosed, we will confirm you have received the correct diagnosis and grading information.

Once your care team knows the location, type, size and grade of the spinal tumor, we can plan your individualized treatment. If you have a recurrence, we will perform comprehensive testing and identify a treatment approach that is suited to your needs.

The staging process assesses the spread of cancer beyond the origin site. Since it is rare for spinal tumors to spread outside the central nervous system (CNS), spinal cancer is usually graded rather than staged.

Grading spinal cancer helps our doctors match treatments to individual needs. For example, it can help us determine the risk for vertebrae collapse (fracture) and the need for surgical intervention.

Spinal cancer is graded in the following ways:

Grade I (grade 1 spinal cancer): The tumor grows slowly and rarely spreads into nearby tissues. It may be possible to completely remove the tumor with surgery.

Grade II (grade 2 spinal cancer): The tumor grows slowly but may spread into nearby tissue or recur.

Grade III (grade 3 spinal cancer): The tumor grows quickly, is likely to spread into nearby tissue, and the tumor cells look very different from normal cells.

Grade IV (grade 4 spinal cancer): The tumor grows and spreads very quickly, and the spinal tumor cells do not look like normal cells. Metastatic brain disease is almost always grade IV.

Metastatic spinal tumors

Metastatic (or secondary) spinal tumors, which have spread to the spine from another location in the body, are much more common than primary spinal tumors. Some cancers that commonly spread to the spine are lung, breast, prostate and colon.

Rather than using the spinal cancer grading system, metastatic spinal cancers are generally assessed through the Tumor, Node, Metastasized (spread) staging system (TNM). Sometimes, individuals are diagnosed with metastatic brain or spinal cancer before they realize they have another primary cancer.

Learn more about neurosurgery

Next topic: How is spinal cancer diagnosed?

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