If you have any symptoms of brain and spinal cancer, they need to be checked by your doctor.

What is brain and spinal cancer?

Brain and spinal cancer are cancers that begin in the brain and the spinal cord. 

Like the rest of your body, the brain and spine are made of tiny ‘building blocks’ called cells.

Brain and spinal cord cancer begins when these cells grow abnormally.

Cancer is a disease of the body's cells. It starts in our genes. Our bodies are constantly making new cells, a process controlled by certain genes. Cancers are caused by damage to these genes. As the damaged cells replicate a lump or tumour is formed. 

Tumours can be:

  • Benign - not cancerous. These do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant - cancerous


When cancer begins in the brain, inside the skull or spinal cord it is called primary bone and spinal cancer. 

Cancer that begins in other parts of the body can sometimes spread to the brain. This is called secondary cancer in the brain.

Symptoms of brain and spinal cord cancer

Signs and symptoms of brain and spinal cancer may include:

  • headaches
  • seizures - severe (e.g. a convulsion) or mild (a few moments where you lack awareness, sensation or jerking muscles)
  • weakness or paralysis in part of the body
  • losing balance
  • general irritability, drowsiness or a change in personality
  • feeling sick and vomiting
  • changes in your eyesight, hearing, smell or taste.

Having these symptoms does not mean you have cancer, but it is important to get any changes checked by your doctor.

Tips for talking to your doctor

  • make a list of what you are feeling and how often it happens, including as much detail as possible
  • think about your family/whānau history of cancer and tell your doctor
  • go back to your doctor if you don't feel better, even if tests show you don't have a problem - you can ask for a second opinion if you want one 
  • take a family/whānau member or friend with you to the appointment for support
Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have nurses and counsellors to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: July 1, 2021