Robert Quinn is a top NFL Draft Pick despite brain tumor

This Thursday, Robert Quinn enters the NFL Draft as a top defensive pick. This is despite health concerns and a past disciplinary action against him. The now 20-year-old from Ladson, SC was a high school phenomenon, with piles of college scholarship letters sitting at home. His senior year, things began to go wrong. He started to complain of headaches, became clumsy, and at times seemed confused. A seizure at home lead him to the hospital where he was given the news that he had a tumor in his brain which was causing fluid to accumulate in his brain, and that his sports career was probably over.  He was transferred to the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was seen by neurosurgeon Byron Bailey. Dr. Bailey biopsied the tumor, and was able to drain the excess fluid by creating a new pathway for the spinal fluid to flow. Two days later, the biopsy results showed that the tumor was benign (not cancerous). His physicians decided that they would leave the tumor in place and simply observe it. Quinn gets a new MRI scan every six months to keep an eye on the tumor.

He went on to become a star defensive player at the University of North Carolina, that is, until he was involved in a scandal of taking cash and gifts from someone who turned out to be working for an agent, and he was suspended from college football for life.

The brain is a soft, spongy mass of tissue. It is protected by:

  • The bones of the skull
  • Three thin layers of tissue (meninges)
  • Watery fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) that flows through spaces between the meninges and through spaces (ventricles) within the brain.

Primary brain tumors (meaning they originate from the tissues of the brain) can be benign or malignant:

Benign brain tumors do not contain cancer cells:

  • Usually benign tumors can be removed and they seldom grow back.
  • Benign brain tumors usually have an obvious border or edge. Cells from benign tumors rarely invade tissues around them.
  • They don’t spread to other parts of the body. However, benign tumors can press on sensitive areas of the brain and cause serious health problems.
  • Unlike benign tumors in most other parts of the body, benign brain tumors are sometimes life threatening.
  • Benign brain tumors may become malignant.

Malignant brain tumors (also called brain cancer) contain cancer cells:

  • Malignant brain tumors are generally more serious and often are a threat to life.
  • They are likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the nearby healthy brain tissue.
  • Cancer cells may break away from malignant brain tumors and spread to other parts of the brain or to the spinal cord. They rarely spread to other parts of the body.

There are several kinds of benign brain tumors, each named after the kind of brain tissue they arise from. These include:

  • Meningioma-tumor arising from the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord; these account for about 20% of brain tumors.
  • Schwannoma (also termed acoustic neuroma)—a tumor in the nerve involved in hearing called the acoustic nerve (or 8th cranial nerve). They arise from Schwann cells which are insulating cells of the nervous system. They account for about 9% of all brain tumors.
  • Pituitary adenomas—pituitary gland tumor; this accounts for about 8% of brain tumors
  • Hemangioblastomas—a vascular tissue mass, sometimes cystic; this accounts for about 2% of brain tumors
  • Craniopharyngioma—a cystic tumor from cell remnants of Rathke’s pouch (nasopharynx), usually occurring in children; this accounts for about 1%-3% of brain tumors
  • Choroid plexus papilloma—choroid plexus tissue (the tissue responsible for the production of cerebrospinal fluid or CSF) mass that blocks cerebrospinal fluid flow, usually in children; this accounts for less than 1% of brain tumors.

All brain tumors can cause symptoms. Some of the most common are:

  • Headaches, usually worse in the morning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in the ability to talk, hear or see
  • Problems with balance or walking
  • Problems with thinking or memory
  • Muscle jerking or twitching
  • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs

The distinction between benign and malignant can sometimes  be ambiguous. Some benign tumors can be as dangerous as malignant ones if in a dangerous or inaccessible location, such as the brain stem. Conversely, some malignant tumors can be successfully treated.

For more information, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on benign brain tumors.


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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