Brain tumors

Older man recovering from brain tumor

​A brain tumor is a mass of cells in the brain that grows out of control and disrupts brain function. A benign (non-cancerous) tumor is the least aggressive type of brain tumor. These come from cells in or around the brain, do not spread to other tissue, and grow slowly with clear borders. Malignant (cancerous) brain tumors have cancer cells, unclear borders and are life-threatening. They grow quickly and spread to surrounding brain tissue. 

There are more than 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors. They are often named based on the type of brain cell or part of the brain where they begin to grow. Depending on your diagnosis and care team recommendations, surgery may be a treatment option. 

Types of brain tumors

The brain and spinal cord make up your central nervous system. Together they control nearly all your mental and physical functions, from walking and talking to thinking and breathing. A tumor of the brain can cause serious problems by growing and pushing on certain areas of the brain or increasing pressure inside the skull. 

Two types of brain tumor are:

  • Primary—a cancerous or noncancerous tumor that begins and grows in the brain.

  • Secondary (metastatic)—a cancerous tumor that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the brain. These are named by the location in which they begin.

 Learn more about cancerous brain and nervous system tumors.

Benign primary brain tumors 

Noncancerous brain tumors tend to stay in one place, don't spread and usually don't return if the entire tumor is removed during surgery. Common benign brain tumors include:

  • Meningiomas—the most common benign brain tumor. They grow in the meninges, the tissues lining the brain and spinal cord, and are usually benign. 

  • Pituitary tumors—these tumors grow in or near the pituitary gland, which sits at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland releases hormones that help regulate the ovaries, testes, thyroid and other glands. Examples of pituitary tumors include craniopharyngiomas and pituitary adenomas that are usually benign.

  • Vestibular schwannomas—also known as acoustic neuromas, these are typically noncancerous and grow on the main nerve that runs from the inner ear to the brain.

Malignant (cancerous) primary brain tumors

Cancerous brain tumors rarely spread throughout the body. However, they unfortunately invade and spread into normal surrounding brain tissue and can sometimes spread to remote portions of the brain. While surgery is often the first step in treating malignant brain tumors, this is usually followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.  Common malignant primary brain tumors include:

  • Glioblastoma (GBM)-the most common primary malignant tumor.  It is considered a stage IV (highly malignant) tumor.  It starts in the brain tissue and typically invades nearby normal brain tissue.

  • Astrocytoma- low grade (grade II) and anaplastic (grade III) tumors start in the brain tissue as well. They are less aggressive than GBM, however they will also invade normal brain tissue.

Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors

While primary brain tumors can be malignant or benign, metastatic brain tumors are always malignant. Any kind of cancer can spread to the brain, but certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer or lung cancer, are more likely to do so. Learn more about metastatic brain tumors. 

Brain tumor risk factors 

Doctors often do not know why a person develops a brain tumor. However, studies have found the following risk factors for brain tumors:

  • Age—generally, brain tumors are most often found in adults aged 60 or older. 

  • Family history—in rare cases, brain tumors may run in families. 

  • Gender—brain tumors happen more frequently in males than in females, except for meningiomas, which occur more often in females. 

  • Hazardous chemical exposure—contact with certain chemicals, solvents, pesticides or petroleum products may increase the risk of brain tumor.

  • Ionizing radiation—high dose X-rays or other sources of radiation can cause cell damage that leads to a tumor. 

Brain tumor symptoms

Symptoms of a brain tumor may include: 

  • Balance problems

  • Facial paralysis

  • Gradual loss of hearing or vision

  • Gradual paralysis or weakness on one side of the body

  • Loss of appetite

  • Mental or behavioral changes

  • Persistent drowsiness, nausea or vomiting 

  • Recurrent headaches

  • Seizures

  • Trouble seeing or speaking

It's important to talk to your doctor if you notice unusual neurological symptoms.

Why choose The Christ Hospital Health Network

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team approach to the treatment of brain tumors. Our dedicated neurosurgery team includes expert neurosurgeons, oncologists and radiation oncologists. Our patients benefit from access to the latest methods for the diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors. 

You'll also have support services including nutrition consultations, integrative medicine, financial counseling and referrals to support groups.

Learn more about brain tumor care at The Christ Hospital Health Network.