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Grades of brain and spinal cord cancer
Grading is a way of classifying brain and spinal cord cancer cells based on their appearance and behaviour when viewed under a microscope. To find out the grade of a tumour, the biopsy sample is examined under a microscope. A grade is given based on how the cancer cells look and behave compared with normal cells (differentiation). This can give the healthcare team an idea of how quickly the cancer may be growing and how likely it is to spread.
The World Health Organization (WHO) grading system is used for classifying brain and spinal cord cancer.
- Tumours may contain several grades of cells. The highest, or most malignant grade, determines the grade of the tumour, even if most of the tumour is a lower grade.
- Tumours do not always stay the same. If a tumour undergoes a transformation, the name and grade of the tumour might change.
- A low-grade (benign) tumour might become high-grade (malignant).
- A low-grade tumour might come back (recur) as a high-grade tumour.
cells grow very slowly
cells look almost normal under a microscope
rarely recurs if completely removed
rarely spreads to nearby tissue
least malignant type of brain or spinal cord tumour
cells are relatively slow growing
cells look slightly abnormal under a microscope
tumour can grow into surrounding tissues
tumour may recur after being removed
can recur as a higher-grade tumour
cells grow at a faster rate
cells look abnormal under a microscope
tumour is growing into surrounding tissues
tumour tends to recur, often at a higher-grade
cells grow rapidly
cells look very abnormal under a microscope
tumour grows new blood vessels to maintain rapid growth
tumour grows deeply into the surrounding tissues
areas of dead cells may be present in the centre of the tumour
most aggressive and malignant type of brain or spinal tumour
Grading plays an important part in planning brain and spinal cord cancer treatment and can also be used to help estimate the prognosis (future outcome).
Support from someone who has ‘been there’
The Canadian Cancer Society’s peer support program is a telephone support service that matches cancer patients and their caregivers with specially trained volunteers.