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.
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. Network investigators are studying the interaction between brain tumors and the brain microenvironment.
- NCI's multidisciplinary Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs) teams 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 is a joint program of NCI and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The Branch supports the development of novel experimental therapeutics for adults and children with primary brain and spinal cord tumors.
- The NCI Center for Cancer Research (CCR) is conducting clinical trials for patients with brain and central nervous system cancers at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
- The Brain Tumor Epidemiology Consortium fosters the development of international and interdisciplinary collaborations to improve the understanding of brain cancer etiology, prevention, and outcomes.
- Four brain-tumor-specific Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) are focusing on the epidemiology and treatment of adult brain tumors, including testing novel agents.
Selected Advances in Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research
- 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).
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
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.
- Clinical Trials for Brain Cancer
- 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.