Follow-up after treatment for brain and spinal cord tumours

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for brain and spinal cord tumours is often shared among the cancer specialists, the surgeon and your family doctor. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.

Don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:

  • headaches
  • seizures
  • changes to neurological functioning, including sensation, motor skills or personality

The chance that a brain or spinal cord tumour will come back (recur) is greatest within 5 years, so you will need close follow-up during this time. The chance of a brain or spinal cord tumour coming back also depends on the type and grade of the tumour.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for brain and spinal cord tumours are usually scheduled:

  • every 3 to 6 months for the first 5 years for high-grade tumours and then once a year
  • every 6 to 12 months for the first 5 years for low-grade tumours and then every 1 to 2 years

During follow-up visits

During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you’re coping. They may also ask about any new symptoms.

Your doctor may do a physical exam, including a neurological exam to assess physical and mental alertness (neurological status). If a shunt is in place, the doctor will check to make sure it is working well.

Tests are often part of follow-up care. Which tests are done and how often they are done are based on the type of tumour, location of the tumour, your symptoms and the treatment that was done. You may have:

  • imaging tests, such as an MRI or a CT scan, to check for recurrence of the tumour
  • a blood test to check the level of antiseizure drugs (anticonvulsants) if you are taking them

If the tumour has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Treating Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults. 2020:
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network . NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Central Nervous System Cancers Version 1.2023. 2023.
  • Youngblood MW, Magill ST, Stupp R, Tsien C. Neoplasms of the central nervous system. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg S. eds. DeVita Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2023: Kindle version, [chapter 64],

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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