Symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumours

The signs or symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumours may vary depending on the location of the tumour and are the same for non-cancerous and cancerous tumours. Signs and symptoms appear when the tumour is large enough to affect brain or spinal cord function. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as brain and spinal cord tumours.

The signs or symptoms of brain tumours include:

  • headache that may be worse in the morning or that gets worse with activity
  • seizures
  • nausea and vomiting
  • changes in personality, thinking, memory and behaviour
  • difficulty speaking or understanding words
  • abnormal movements
  • trouble walking
  • weakness on 1 side of the body
  • difficulty with fine motor skills
  • trouble swallowing and eating
  • vision problems including blurred vision, double vision and loss of vision
  • hearing problems
  • problems with balance
  • drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • numbness in part of the body
  • confusion
  • coma

The signs or symptoms of spinal cord tumours include:

  • back or neck pain that may extend to the arms or legs, be dull, sharp or burning or be worse at night
  • weakness
  • numbness
  • lack of coordination that is usually on both sides of the body
  • changes in posture
  • difficulty walking
  • bladder problems, such as an intense need to urinate, an inability to urinate or a loss of bladder control (incontinence)
  • bowel problems, such as constipation or a loss of bowel control (incontinence)
  • Brown-Séquard syndrome, which can cause a loss of the feeling and movement on the same side of the body as the tumour and a loss of the pain and temperature sensation on the opposite side of the body

In some cases, brain or spinal cord tumours can cause serious problems. These cancer-related emergencies need to be treated right away:

Expert review and references

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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