Brain Cancer

Brain tumours include types of brain cancer, however not all brain tumours are cancerous.

Brain tumours are graded 1-4 by their behaviour such as speed of growth and how likely they are to spread. These grades are then split into low grade (1-2) and high grade (3-4), with low grade tumours defined as non-cancerous and high grade tumours as cancerous.

However, it is important to remember that just because a tumour is low grade, it does not mean there are no associated health risks or problems. Having regular check-ups is important whether you have a high or low grade tumour.

What is brain cancer?

Following the diagnosis of brain cancer, the first question you may ask is 'what is brain cancer'?

We have billions of cells in our body, which grow and multiply to help support our body's natural processes and functions, such as repairing damage.

However, if the cells in the brain 'go wrong' and begin to grow in an abnormal way, rather than repair damage, they can inadvertently cause it.

Diagram of abnormal cell division

If these abnormal brain cells begin to grow and multiply, contained within the brain, this is how a primary brain tumour can occur. If the cells then grow rapidly and spread within the brain, this is how cancerous tumours are formed and will result in a brain cancer diagnosis.

If the cells go wrong elsewhere in the body first, say, the lungs, and those cells spread to the brain, this is known as secondary brain cancer or, metastases.

How brain cancer is graded

There are over 150 different brain tumour types, each named after the type of cell they grow from, their location in the brain how likely they are to spread.

Brain tumours that grow rapidly are known as high grade (grade 3 brain cancer and grade 4 brain cancer).

Occasionally, people will refer to these as stage 3 brain cancer or stage 4 brain cancer. However the word 'stage' is often used in other forms of cancer, but is incorrect when discussing brain cancer.

Brain tumours that grow more slowly, and are usually non-cancerous, are known as low grade (grade 1 brain tumour and grade 2 brain tumour).

The prognosis for brain cancer varies from person to person and your medical team is best placed to advice you of this based on your individual circumstances and brain cancer diagnosis.

Brain cancer diagnosis

Read about the methods used to diagnose brain cancer including scans, biopsies, biomarker testing and laboratory analysis.

How brain cancer is graded

Brain cancer is graded from 1 to 4 depending on how it is likely to behave. Find out more.

Biomarkers

Biomarkers may be helpful in predicting how quickly your tumour may grow or how well you may respond to some treatments.

What is the cause of brain cancer

It is important to remember that there is nothing you could have done, or not done, to prevent brain cancer.

Largely, there is no known cause of brain cancer, but we do know there are risk factors, such as your genetic makeup or exposure to radiation.

Inheriting a gene which makes you more likely to develop brain cancer: it is estimated that an inherited gene accounts for one in 20 cases of brain tumours. Certain genetic conditions may also increase your risk of developing a low or high grade brain tumour.

Exposure to radiation: the risk of some brain tumour types (meningioma or glioma) is higher if you had radiotherapy to your head as a child, this is particularly the case if it occurred before the age of five.

Can brain cancer be cured?

Many people diagnosed with brain cancer will want to know if brain cancer be cured, however this can vary from person to person and type to type.

It is more likely that brain cancer will spread to other parts of the brain than a lower grade brain tumour and, despite successful treatment, brain cancer can often return.

However, this depends on a lot of factors such as the location of the tumour, its reaction to treatment, or the success of surgery and, to a certain extent, its molecular/genetic make-up. Your medical team will be best placed to advice you on your individual circumstances and prognosis.

Types of brain cancer

The most common type of primary brain cancer in adults is glioblastoma.

There are both primary and secondary types of glioblastoma. Primary glioblastoma originates in the brain and first appears as a grade 4 glioblastoma.

Secondary brain cancer

Often, secondary cancer refers to the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another, however a secondary glioblastoma still originates in the brain but has developed from a lower grade brain tumour type, known as an astrocytoma.

Brain Cancer Prognosis

The prognosis for brain cancer types varies from type to type and person to person and depends on a lot of factors, such as the location of the tumour, its reaction to treatments, or the success of surgery. Your medical team will be best placed to advice you based on your individual circumstances and your brain cancer diagnosis.

If you brain cancer type is classed as inoperable this means that your medical team may not be able to perform surgery for reasons such as the location of the tumour. For example if it is too close to vital structures of the brain, or because the cancer is not solid lump or mass and it is therefore difficult to identify the edges of the tumour. Operating in such circumstances could result in damage to healthy brain tissue and vital areas of the brain that control movement, sight or breathing.

If your brain cancer type is classed as terminal this means your brain cancer cannot be adequately treated. If your brain cancer is classed as terminal, it is important you speak with your medical team about your next steps.

You can also contact our support team Monday to Friday, 9am - 5pm on 0808 800 0004 or on Live Chat, or email support@thebraintumourcharity.org. The team will be able to offer you advice on what to do following a terminal brain tumour diagnosis.

Brain cancer symptoms

Brain cancer symptoms and signs can vary from person to person and is dependent on your age, amongst other things.

Adult symptoms

Read about the signs and symptoms of brain cancer in adults.

Child symptoms

How to spot possible signs and symptoms of brain cancer in children.

HeadSmart

Information designed to help GPs and parents spot the signs and symptoms of a brain cancer in children.

Brain cancer treatment

The treatment options for brain cancer include surgery, radiation therapy (known as radiotherapy) and chemotherapy.

It is best to speak with your medical team about how your brain cancer can be treated, and make sure to discuss the treatment options available to you, as well as the side-effects of these treatments before making any decisions.

Adult brain cancer treatments

Information about different brain cancer treatments available for adults.

Child brain cancer treatments

Information about different brain cancer treatments available for children.

Treatment news

Read about some of the new treatments that are currently in development for brain cancer

Living with brain cancer

Living with brain cancer can be very difficult to accept and can have a significant impact on your life and well-being. There will be support available to you from The Brain Tumour Charity or from your medical team which can help you cope with these changes.

The side-effects of brain can include memory loss, fatigue, depression and personality changes.

Side effects of brain cancer

Brain cancer can affect a variety of brain functions, which can have an impact on your quality of life.

Information and Support line

Our support and info line is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Find out more.

Facebook support groups

Find out how to join our closed Facebook groups where you can meet others living with a brain cancer diagnosis.

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