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Can Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults Be Found Early?

At this time there are no widely recommended tests to screen for brain and spinal cord tumors. (Screening is testing for a disease in people who have no symptoms.) Most brain tumors are found when a person goes to a doctor because of signs or symptoms they are having.

Most often, the outlook for people with a brain or spinal cord tumor depends on their age, the type of tumor, and its location, not by how early it is detected. But as with any disease, earlier detection and treatment is likely to be helpful.

People with inherited syndromes

For people with certain inherited syndromes (such as neurofibromatosis or tuberous sclerosis) that put them at higher risk for brain tumors, doctors often recommend frequent physical exams and other tests starting when they are young. In some cases these tests can find tumors when they are still small. Not all tumors related to these syndromes may need to be treated right away, but finding them early might help doctors monitor them so that they can be treated quickly if they begin to grow or cause problems.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Genetic/Familial High-Risk Assessment: Breast, Ovarian, and Pancreatic. Version 1.2020. Accessed at on February 11, 2020.

Randle S. Tuberous sclerosis complex: Management and prognosis. UpToDate. 2020. Accessed at on February 11, 2020.

Stewart DR, Korf BR, Nathanson KL, Stevenson DA, Yohay K. Care of adults with neurofibromatosis type 1: A clinical practice resource of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG). Genet Med. 2018;20(7):671-682.

Last Revised: May 5, 2020

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