What are central nervous system cancers?
The central nervous system cancers are rare and consists of disease in the brain and spinal cord. Depending on where the tumours are found, central nervous system cancer is commonly referred to as brain cancer or spinal cord cancer.
What are the different types of brain and spinal cancer?
There are over 40 different types of brain cancers and spinal cord cancers and each is named after the cell or tissue they start to grow in first. Though the majority of brain tumours are non-cancerous, they can still cause a significant impact on your health.
Two examples of the more common brain cancers include:
- Medulloblastomas (the most common form of brain cancer in children).
- Gliomas (the most common category of brain cancer)
Some common forms of spinal cord cancer include:
- Ewing's sarcoma
Signs and symptoms of central nervous system cancer
Symptoms of brain and spinal cancer can vary for each patient depending on where the cancer is growing and at what stage your cancer is. Some symptoms may be difficult to notice or attributed to other health concerns. Please speak with your GP if you have any concerns regarding your health.
Common symptoms of central nervous system cancer could include:
- Headaches or blurred vision
- Unusual lumps in the neck or back
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cognitive difficulties
- Physical difficulties such as impaired coordination
- Hearing problems
- Emotional and behavioural changes
Notice changes and act quickly
Diagnosing central nervous system cancer
How is CNS cancer diagnosed?
If your GP cannot rule out a tumour following preliminary tests such as a physical exam and blood test, they will likely arrange for you to have one or a combination of the following diagnostic tests.
CT stands for Computed Tomography and is a type of X-ray that can take images of inside the body.
If your scans show any abnormalities a surgical biopsy may be performed. A neurosurgeon will make a small incision in the skull to remove an amount of tissue to formally diagnose the condition.
Another way to formally diagnose a certain category of central nervous system cancer is a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. A lumbar puncture uses a needle to collect cerebrospinal fluid that will then be assessed to diagnose the condition.
Staging - Investigating the extent of the cancer
Diagnostic tests will allow your care team to establish your cancer as stage 1 to 4. Staging helps your care team and specialists to create a unique treatment plan.
What does my cancer stage mean?
The cancerous tumour is relatively small and the cancer has not yet spread to other tissue.
Cancerous tumours remains relatively localised but has spread to nearby tissue beyond its origin.
Cancer has spread regionally and affected surrounding tissue, and may have grown.
Sometimes called advanced cancer, stage 4 means cancer has spread to other tissue or organs beyond the region where it originated.
Treatment for central nervous system cancer
Epworth treatment provides patients and their families with a holistic approach to achieving the best health outcomes.
Treatment for brain and spinal cancer treatment at Epworth
We offer a specialised variety of surgical procedures, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancers. Your treatment may include a combination of options that are aimed to provide longer-lasting or even permanent relief from the brain and spinal tumour symptoms.
Chemotherapy is a common form of treatment that involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used alongside other treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery.
Radiotherapy is the use of radiation to treat and manage cancer. Supported by the latest world-class technology and evidence-based techniques, a highly experienced team of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, physicists and nurses are committed to providing compassionate, exceptional care for patients and their loved ones.
Brain cancer or spinal cancer surgery
Surgery is a common form of treatment for central nervous system cancers. Surgery may be recommended by your Epworth care team to remove the tumour or tumours and improve your quality of life. Epworth offers several different types of surgery such as craniotomy, awake craniotomy, and endoscopic surgery.
Why choose Epworth for cancer care?
Epworth HealthCare is Victoria's largest not-for-profit private hospital group, renowned for excellence in diagnosis, treatment, care and rehabilitation. Epworth is an innovator in Australia’s health system, embracing the latest in evidence-based medicine to pioneer treatments and services for our patients.
Supported by excellent facilities, we integrate clinical practice with education and research to deliver outstanding patient care, each and every day.
CNS cancer rehabilitation
Rehabilitation doesn't just start after your treatment has ended. You may benefit from our holistic rehabilitation programs at any time throughout your cancer journey. Our programs support you to physically and emotionally prepare for treatment or restore your strength and wellbeing.
Who is the program for?
Our cancer rehabilitation program is designed for anyone diagnosed with CNS cancer at any time from diagnosis to treatment and recovery.
Rehabilitation doesn't start after your treatment has ended. You may benefit from our holistic rehabilitation programs at any time throughout your cancer journey. Our programs can support you to physically and emotionally prepare for treatment and restore your strength and wellbeing.
What does the cancer rehabilitation program involve?
Before you start
You will meet a rehabilitation doctor and allied health team for a medical, psychosocial, and physical assessment.
Everyone's cancer care journey is different. The assessments will help the team understand your specific needs to develop the right program for you. You will work with the team to develop goals to work towards throughout the program.
During the program
Depending on your assessment and individual needs, you may complete your program:
- as part of a group, with other people, who have been diagnosed with varying cancers
- on your own
Most people will attend as an outpatient, coming to hospital for a few hours once or twice a week, over several weeks. Some people may need to stay overnight in hospital and complete a program over several consecutive days.
Either way, you will receive the same support from our team to address your physical, functional and emotional needs.
Your program may include:
- A physical exercise component to help restore movement, strength and fitness
- An educational component where you will learn about different areas associated with your cancer diagnosis and treatment and how to manage them, including:
- emotional wellbeing
- body image and self-esteem
- work or family challenges
- late-onset of side effects.
At the end of your program
Our rehabilitation team will keep in touch with your referring doctor and/or treating team throughout the program and our team will keep them informed about your progress.
They will also connect you to local services and support networks so you can leave our program with the strength and confidence to live life to your fullest potential.
Who will support me during the rehabilitation program?
Depending on your needs, you may see some or all of our multidisciplinary team which includes:
- Rehabilitation specialist doctor
- Cancer nurse
- Exercise physiologist
- Social worker
- Occupational therapist
How can I access a rehabilitation program?
A referral from your specialist or GP is required to participate.
If you have any questions about our cancer rehabilitation programs, call us on: 1300 345 600.
Life after treatment
Life after central nervous system cancer treatment can pose its own challenges but our Epworth specialists are here to support you.
Life after treatment
Life after cancer treatment can be a mixture of emotions. You may not 'bounce back' as quickly as you like, but be kind to yourself and start making plans with your family or carers.
- You may still feel fatigued for a while after finishing treatment.
- If required, make an advanced care plan.
- Ask for help. If your body has changed due to treatment, remember help is out there to support you to feel your best and regain your sense of identity and self-esteem. Speak with your care team about options to support your general wellbeing after treatment.
If you’re in remission for central nervous system cancer you will likely need follow-up appointments to ensure abnormal cells have not returned and to check in on your overall wellbeing.
In some cases, palliative care may be discussed with you and your family in some cases. Epworth palliative care aims to relieve you of symptoms and manage pain.