Prognosis and survival for brain and spinal cord tumours

If you have a brain or spinal cord tumour, you may have questions about your prognosis. A prognosis is the doctor’s best estimate of how cancer will affect someone and how it will respond to treatment. Prognosis and survival depend on many factors. Only a doctor familiar with your medical history, the type, grade and characteristics of your cancer, the treatments chosen and the response to treatment can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

A prognostic factor is an aspect of the cancer or a characteristic of the person that the doctor will consider when making a prognosis. A predictive factor influences how a cancer will respond to a certain treatment. Prognostic and predictive factors are often discussed together. They both play a part in deciding on a treatment plan and a prognosis.

The following are prognostic and predictive factors for brain and spinal cord tumours.

Tumour grade

Low-grade tumours have a better prognosis than high-grade tumours.

Tumour type

The type of brain or spinal cord tumour is an important prognostic factor. Some types of tumours have a better prognosis than others.


In general, people younger than 55 have a better prognosis.

Location and size of the tumour

The location and size of the tumour are important prognostic factors because they determine whether the tumour can be completely removed with surgery. Tumours that are small and easily accessible have a better prognosis.

Surgical removal

Tumours that can be completely removed with surgery usually have a better prognosis.

Tumour spread

If a tumour spreads to other areas of the central nervous system (CNS) or beyond the CNS, the prognosis is less favourable.

Performance status and neurological function

People with a high performance status (Karnofsky score of 70 or greater) before treatment have a better prognosis than those with a lower performance status. People who can carry out everyday activities, can walk and can take care of themselves have better neurological function and a higher performance status than those who require help or can’t do these activities.

Chromosomal abnormalities

Oligodendrogliomas have a chromosome abnormality where the “p” arm of chromosome 1 and the “q” arm of chromosome 19 have been deleted. These tumours are more responsive to chemotherapy and have a better prognosis than tumours that do not have this chromosome abnormality.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults. 2014:
  • American Joint Committee on Cancer. AJCC Cancer Staging Handbook. 7th ed. Chicago: Springer; 2010.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Brain Tumor. 2015:
  • Everson RG, Liau LM . Malignant gliomas. Bernstein M and Berger MS (eds.). Neuro-oncology: The Essentials. 3rd ed. New York: Thieme; 2015: 25: 289-301.

Survival statistics for brain and spinal cord tumours

Survival varies with each grade and particular type or subtype of brain and spinal cord tumour.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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