Brain and spinal tumours

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Survival statistics for brain and spinal cord cancer

Survival statistics for brain and spinal cord cancer are very general estimates and must be interpreted very carefully. Because these statistics are based on the experience of groups of people, they cannot be used to predict a particular person’s chances of survival.

There are many different ways to measure and report cancer survival statistics. Your doctor can explain the statistics for brain and spinal cord cancer and what they mean to you.

Statistics are not always available for all types of brain and spinal cord tumours, often because they are rare or hard to classify.

Net survival

Net survival represents the probability of surviving cancer in the absence of other causes of death. It is used to give an estimate of the percentage of people who will survive their cancer.

In Canada, 5-year net survival statistics are reported for brain and spinal cord cancer combined. This statistic does not necessarily reflect the actual survival for the individual cancers within the group. The 5-year net survival for all brain and spinal cord cancers is 24%. This means that, on average, people diagnosed with brain and spinal cord cancer are 24% as likely to live at least 5 years after their diagnosis as people in the general population.

Relative survival

Relative survival compares the survival for a group of people with cancer to the survival expected for a group of people in the general population who share the same characteristics as the people with cancer (such as age, sex and place of residence). Ideally, the group of people used in the general population would not include people with cancer, but this estimate can be difficult to obtain. As a result, relative survival can sometimes be overestimated.

Median survival

Brain tumour survival may be reported as median survival statistics. Median survival is the period of time (usually months or years) at which half of the people with cancer are still alive. The other half will live less than this amount of time.

Survival by prognostic factors

Survival varies with each grade and particular type or subtype of brain and spinal cord cancer. The following factors can also affect survival for brain and spinal cord cancer. However, survival rates for brain tumours will vary widely, depending on the type of tumour, its grade and the location in the brain.

  • Low-grade tumours have a more favourable prognosis than high-grade tumours.
  • People younger than 65 years of age have a more favourable prognosis.
  • People with a better performance status and neurological status have a more favourable prognosis.
  • Tumours that can be surgically removed have a more favourable prognosis than tumours that can be partially removed or not removed.
    • Tumours that are in parts of the brain where they cannot be easily removed by surgery have lower survival rates.

Survival statistics for gliomas

The numbers given below are the most current statistics available. However, they represent people who were diagnosed and treated many years ago. Improvements in treatment since then means that for people being diagnosed now, the survival rates may be higher.

Astrocytoma (1973-2004)
Type of tumourAge5-year relative survivalMedian survival

pilocytic astrocytoma

(grade I)

greater than 90%

diffuse astrocytoma

(grade II)



5–7 years





anaplastic astrocytoma

(grade III)



2–3 years





glioblastoma multiforme

(grade IV)



12–14 months





Oligodendroglioma (1973-2004)
Type of tumourAge5-year relative survival


(grade II)







anaplastic oligodendroglioma

(grade III)







Ependymoma (1973-2004)
Type of tumourAge5-year relative survival

ependymoma (grade I and II) and

anaplastic ependymoma (grade III)







Survival rates for those 65 or older are usually lower.

Survival statistics for other brain and spinal cord tumours


  • meningioma (grade I) – About 80% of people remain progression-free 10 years after their diagnosis.
  • atypical meningioma (grade II) – About 35% of people remain progression-free 10 years after their diagnosis.
  • anaplastic or malignant meningioma (grade III) – These tumours have a median survival of less than 2 years.

Primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL)

  • The median progression-free survival is approximately 12.8 months with chemotherapy alone and up to 5 years with combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Brain metastases and spinal cord metastases

  • Median survival ranges from 7–24 weeks.
  • Survival varies depending on the site of the primary cancer.

Questions about survival

People with cancer should talk to their doctor about their prognosis. Prognosis depends on many factors, including:

  • your health history
  • type of cancer
  • stage
  • characteristics of the cancer
  • treatments chosen
  • how the cancer responds to treatment

Only a doctor familiar with these factors can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.


Catherine Coulson Slowly, it dawned on me that I, too, could be a survivor

Read Catherine's story

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