Brain and spine cancer
A brain tumour is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the brain. Brain tumours can be primary or secondary cancers. They can also be benign (non-cancerous) tumours often found on the lining of the brain, or malignant. Malignant primary brain tumours start in the brain, and can spread to other parts of the brain, and in rare cases, to the spine. Malignant secondary brain tumours (metastases) start elsewhere in your body and spread to your brain.
Brain tumours are graded according to how fast they grow and how likely they are to grow back after treatment.
For further information about signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment please visit The Brain Tumour Charity website.
King's neuro-oncology service
King’s is a specialist referral centre for neuro-oncology. We serve a large area, including south London and Kent. We also see patients from the rest of London and across the country.
We provide investigation, diagnostics, treatment and follow-up care for patients with suspected and diagnosed brain tumours, and also services for benign brain tumours. We also provide care for teenagers and young adults. All surgery for neurological tumours and post-operative care is performed at King’s College Hospital.
Referrals to the service are through the on-call neurosurgery team if it is an emergency referral or via the neuro-oncology coordinator.
A group of experts called a multidisciplinary team (MDT) will be responsible for your care. This is a team of doctors, nurses and other health professionals specialising in treating your type of cancer.
What to expect at your appointment
After our specialist team has reviewed your history and the results of the tests and investigations you had at your local hospital, we usually call you to arrange your first appointment at King's. The neuro-oncology clinic is an outpatient clinic where you will be seen by a team of specialist healthcare professionals.
You will see one of our surgical team, usually a consultant, and your clinical nurse specialist (CNS), who will be your key worker during your care. They will explain your test and treatment options and support you and your family. The consultant will ask you about your symptoms, take your history, show you your scan images (if you would like to see them) and discuss your treatment plan with you.
If they think surgery is your best option, they will do some blood tests and take some swabs at this appointment. They will explain the surgery and may give you a date to come in for your operation. You may also see one of our anaesthetists so they can assess you before your surgery.
This appointment can take between 45 minutes and two hours, and you may have more tests and investigations at King's on the same day or at a later date.
We will also give you written information about the type of cancer you have, your treatment options, and other sources of support, such as King's Macmillan Information and Support Centre.
You can bring a partner, friend or relative to your appointment for support if you wish.
Tests and investigations
The type of investigations you have will depend on where we think you may have tumour(s) and your medical history. They may include:
- CT scan of your brain with contrast dye
- MRI scan of your brain with contrast dye
- Neuropsychology assessment
- Perfusion MRI of your brain
- PET scan at St Thomas' hospital
If we suspect the cancer has spread to other parts of your body you may also have:
If we suspect you have a tumour in your spine you may have:
- full neurological examination
- whole neural-axis MRI scan
Your care and treatment depends on the type of cancer you have, its size and where it is, how far it has advanced (the stage) and your overall health.
After our team of specialists reviews the results of your tests and investigations, we will arrange an appointment so you can discuss your treatment options with your consultant and CNS. The final decision about what treatment you have is yours.
Your care usually includes one or more or a combination of treatments:
- Surgery to relieve your symptoms and to help us decide whether you need more treatment such as chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.
- Radiotherapy at Guy’s Cancer Centre, or the Kent Cancer Centre in Maidstone, depending on where you live.
- Radiosurgery - a targeted form of radiotherapy - at St Bartholomew’s Hospital or Cromwell Hospital
- Chemotherapy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ or Maidstone, depending on where you live.
Who to contact
Neuro-oncology clinical nurse specialists:
Phone: 020 3299 6709, available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
You may get through to an answerphone. If so, please leave a message and your call will be answered within 24 hours.
For multidisciplinary team (MDT) referrals or administrative queries, please call 020 3299 4151.
For chemotherapy-related issues during your treatment, please contact your local acute oncology service.
Guy's and St Thomas’ Acute Oncology Service (AOS) helpline: 020 7188 3754
Maidstone Hospital Chemotherapy Emergency Contact: 07717343134
For any other urgent queries please either:
- contact your GP
- call 111 for further advice
- attend your nearest Accident & Emergency department
How we support you
We want to make sure that you get the assistance you need to live well with – and after – cancer. There is a wide range of support available to help you cope with cancer, including physical, emotional and practical advice for you, your family, friends and carers.
If you have practical queries or want further help and support, please contact the Macmillan Centre at King’s on 07813399714. Services include signposting to benefits advisors, local charities and community support, as well as a wig fitting service, and scarf tying workshops.
We also offer a range of health and wellbeing information and support.