A Snapshot of Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers

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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.

Line graphs showing U.S. Brain and Other Nervous System Cancers Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity.  Incidence from 1991-2011 and mortality from 1990-2010 is shown. In 2011, 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.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additional statistics and charts are available at the SEER Web site.

NCI’s Investment in Brain and Central Nervous System Cancer Research

To learn more about the research NCI conducts and supports in brain and central nervous system cancer, visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio (NFRP). The NFRP includes information about research grants, contract awards, and intramural research projects funded by NCI. When exploring this information, it should be noted that approximately half of the NCI budget supports basic research that may not be specific to one type of cancer. By its nature, basic research cuts across many disease areas, contributing to our knowledge of the underlying biology of cancer and enabling the research community to make advances against many cancer types. For these reasons, the funding levels reported in NFRP may not definitively report all research relevant to a given category.

Pie chart of NCI Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2013.  Biology, 18%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 8%.  Prevention, 2%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 15%.  Treatment, 46%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 5%.  Scientific model systems, 6%.

Source: NCI Funded Research Portfolio. Only projects with assigned common scientific outline area codes are included. A description of relevant research projects can be found on the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site.

Other NCI programs and activities relevant to Brain and Central Nervous System cancer include:

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]

Additional Resources Brain and Central Nervous System Cancers

  • Posted: November 5, 2014