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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

A Snapshot of Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers

Incidence and Mortality

It is estimated that over 24,500 new cases of primary malignant brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013; of those, approximately 3,200 will be new cases of childhood malignant primary brain and CNS tumors.1 The incidence and mortality rates for cancers that originate in the brain and CNS have decreased slightly in the past decade. Both incidence and mortality rates are substantially 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 27 percent of all childhood cancers. The incidence rate of brain and CNS cancers in children has been stable over the past three decades, but the death rate has dropped over this period. 

There are few known risk factors for brain and CNS cancers, but several conditions may increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumors: 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 brain cancer include watchful waiting, surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Newer treatments, such as biological therapy and targeted therapy, are being studied in clinical trials. 

It is estimated that approximately $4.5 billion2 is spent in the United States each year on brain cancer treatment.

Line graphs showing U.S. Brain and Other Nervous System Cancers Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010. In 2010, whites have the highest incidence follow by Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.  In 2010, whites have the highest mortality, followed by Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.  Insufficient data available for time trend analysis American Indian/Alaska Natives.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers

Selected Advances in Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research

Pie chart of NCI Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 20%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 10%.  Prevention, 2%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 15%.  Treatment, 41%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 6%.  Scientific model systems, 6%.
  • Features of the tumor microenvironment and the gene transcriptional class of glioblastoma tumors are correlated. Published March 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A fusion gene may initiate some cases of glioblastoma; targeting the protein produced by the fusion gene may be a new therapeutic approach for a subset of patients with glioblastoma. Published July 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Patients with anaplastic oligodendrogliomas with a specific genetic mutation live substantially longer if treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy rather than with radiation alone. Published October 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A growth factor, together with its receptor, is essential for the growth and spread of medulloblastoma, the most common malignant pediatric brain tumor. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to brain and CNS cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment3 in brain and CNS cancers research increased from $153.7 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $177.5 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $53.8 million in brain and CNS cancers research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Bar graph of NCI Brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) Cancers Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal year (FY) 2008, $153.7 million Brain and CNS Cancers Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2009, $151.5 million of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $156.8 million of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2011, $172.6 million of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2012, $177.5 million of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers


  • 1 Cancer Brain Tumor Registry of the United States.
  • 2 Cancer Trends Progress Report, 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.

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