A Snapshot of Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers
Incidence and Mortality
It is estimated that nearly 23,400 new cases of primary malignant brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors will be diagnosed in the United States in 2014; of those, approximately 2,240 will be diagnosed in children ages 0 to 14 years and 540 will be diagnosed in adolescents ages 15 to 19 years.1 On average the incidence rates for brain and CNS cancers have decreased 0.2% each year since 2002. Overall mortality rates have not changed significantly in the past decade. Both incidence and mortality rates are higher for whites than for people of other racial/ethnic groups. In all racial/ethnic groups, men have higher incidence and mortality rates than women.
Brain tumors are the leading cause of death from solid tumor cancers in children; brain and CNS tumors make up approximately 21 percent of all childhood cancers.1 The incidence rate of brain and CNS cancers in children has been relatively stable since the mid-1980s, but the death rate has dropped over this period.
The causes of most brain and CNS cancers are not known. However, factors that may increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumors include exposure to radiation, exposure to vinyl chloride, and having certain genetic syndromes. There are no screening tests for brain and CNS cancers. Standard treatments for adult brain cancer include watchful waiting, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Newer treatments for adult brain cancer, such as biological therapy and proton beam radiation therapy are being studied in clinical trials.
Assuming that incidence and survival rates follow recent trends, it is estimated that $4.9 billion2 will be spent on brain cancer care in the United States in 2014.
Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers
- The Tumor Microenvironment Network (TMEN) is exploring the role of the microenvironment—the cells and blood vessels that feed and support a tumor—in tumor initiation and progression. Two TMEN centers are focused on brain tumors, including one center studying the interaction between the vasculature microenvironment and primary and metastatic brain tumors.
- NCI’s multidisciplinary Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs) focus on the development and application of nanotechnology to clinical oncology. Two CCNEs are developing technologies that could be used to detect brain cancer.
- The Neuro-Oncology Branch, a joint program of NCI and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, supports the development of novel experimental therapeutics for adults and children with primary brain and spinal cord tumors.
- The Brain Tumor Epidemiology Consortium fosters the development of international and interdisciplinary collaborations through six working groups to improve the understanding of brain cancer etiology, prevention, and outcomes.
- NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics conducts population and multidisciplinary research to discover the genetic and environmental causes of cancer, including studies on central nervous system and brain tumors.
- Five brain-tumor-specific Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) are focusing on the epidemiology and treatment of adult brain tumors, including testing novel agents and developing unique approaches to diagnosis and treatment of adult brain tumors.
Selected Advances in Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research
- In a mouse model of brain cancer, stimulated Raman scattering microscopy allowed surgeons to distinguish cancer tissue from normal brain tissue while operating. This technology has the potential to improve the safety and accuracy of surgeries in cases where tumor boundaries are difficult to determine. Published September 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- Comprehensive genomic characterization of more than 500 glioblastoma tumors identified novel mutations and found that a potential biomarker of treatment response is predictive in one glioblastoma subtype. These data will help researchers identify therapeutic and diagnostic targets, validate research observations, and generate hypotheses to advance a molecular understanding of glioblastoma. Published October 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- In newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients, an early increase in tumor blood perfusion after starting antiangiogenic therapy in combination with radiation and chemotherapy was associated with improved overall survival, suggesting that imaging techniques to monitor early changes in blood vessels could be used to identify patients most likely to benefit from continued use of antiagiogenic therapy. Published November 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- Genomic comparisons of mutations in initial and recurrent gliomas suggest that recurrent tumors evolve from very early-stage cells in the initial tumor. Published December 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
Trends in NCI Funding for Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research
NCI’s investment3 in brain and CNS cancers research was $176.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2013. In addition to the funding described in the graph, NCI supported $53.8 million in brain and CNS cancers research in FYs 2009 and 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Additional Resources Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers
- What You Need To Know About™ Brain Tumors
Describes possible risks, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for someone recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.
- Brain Tumor Home Page
Information about brain tumor treatment, clinical trials, research, statistics, and other topics from the National Cancer Institute.
- Cell Phones and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet
A fact sheet that outlines the available evidence regarding use of cellular/mobile telephones and cancer risk.
- Adult Brain Tumors Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of adult brain tumors.
- Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of various childhood brain tumors.
- Clinical Trials for Brain Cancer
- 1 Cancer Facts & Figures 2014 from the American Cancer Society.
- 2 Cancer Prevalence and Cost of Care Projections, in 2010 dollars.
- 3 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.