Brain tumor

Brain tumor

Synonyms: Glioblastoma multiforme, Ependymoma, Glioma, Astrocytoma, Medulloblastoma, Neuroglioma, Oligodendroglioma, Lymphoma, Vestibular schwannoma, Acoustic neuroma, Meningioma, Brain cancer, Intracranial neoplasm


A brain tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain. The tumors may be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign brain tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain and can come back once removed. However, they rarely spread into other tissues. Malignant brain tumors usually grow quickly and spread into other brain tissue. Malignant brain tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Tumors that start in the brain are called primary brain tumors. If the brain tumor has started in another part of the body and has spread to the brain, it called a metastatic brain tumor. Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors. Brain tumors can occur in both children and adults. Up to half of metastatic brain tumors are from lung cancer. Although cancer is rare in children, brain and spinal cord tumors are the second most common type of childhood cancer, after leukemia.

Primary brain tumors are categorized according to the type of cells in which they start and the severity of the tumor (graded from I to IV). For example, an astrocytic tumor begins in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes while an oligodendroglial tumor begins in brain cells called oligodendrocytes.

A tumor of severity Grade I (low-grade) has tumor cells which look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade II, III, and IV tumor cells. They rarely spread into nearby tissues. Grade I brain tumors may be cured if they are completely removed by surgery. A tumor of severity Grade IV (high-grade) has tumor cells which do not look like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread very quickly. Grade IV tumors usually cannot be cured.

The signs and symptoms of brain tumors are not the same in every person, but often include: a morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting; seizures; vision, hearing, and speech problems; and/or loss of balance and trouble walking.

A variety of tests are used to determine if a brain tumor exists. Such tests include, but are not limited to: a general physical examination, neurological exam, tumor marking test, CT scan, PET scan (positron emission tomography scan), and biopsy.

The cause of most brain tumors is unknown although certain risk factors have been identified. They include: being exposed to vinyl chloride, Epstein-Barr virus infection, and certain genetic syndromes such as Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) or 2 (NF2) and von Hippel-Lindau disease.

The treatment for a brain tumor varies by person and type of tumor; the treatment for children is generally different from the treatment for adults. Common treatment options are: active surveillance, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. The prognosis (chance of recovery) also varies by person and type of tumor.

Adapted from National Cancer Institute (NCI) – Brain Tumors – Patient Version at https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain

Adapted from National Cancer Institute (NCI) – Brain Tumors – Patient Version at https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain


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