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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. Low grade tumours (grades 1 and 2) are defined as non-cancerous and high grade tumours (grades 3 and 4) as cancerous. 

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?

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, cells in the brain can grow in an abnormal way and inadvertently cause damage, rather than repair it.

A primary brain tumour is formed, if these abnormal brain cells begin to grow and multiply. Cancerous tumours are formed if these cells then grow rapidly and spread within the brain. This will result in a brain cancer diagnosis.

If cancerous cells develop elsewhere in the body first and then spread to the brain, this is known as secondary brain cancer or metastases.

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.

While secondary cancer usually refers to the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another, a secondary glioblastoma still originates in the brain. It is referred to as a secondary glioblastoma because it has developed from a lower grade brain tumour type, known as an astrocytoma.

How is brain cancer graded?

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. While the word 'stage' is often used in other forms of cancer, it's the wrong term for talking about 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).

Can brain cancer be cured?

Many people diagnosed with brain cancer will want to know if brain cancer be cured, however this can vary depending on the person affected and type of brain cancer.

Brain cancer can spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine, but rarely spreads to other parts of the body. 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.

If you brain cancer type is classed as inoperable this means that your medical team may not be able to perform surgery.

This may be because the tumour is too close to vital structures of the brain or because the cancer is not a solid lump or mass - making it more difficult to identify the edges of the tumour. Operating in such circumstances could result in damage to healthy brain tissue in vital areas of the brain that control movement, sight or breathing.

What is the prognosis for brain cancer?

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

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 emailsupport@thebraintumourcharity.org. The team will be able to offer you advice on what to do following a terminal brain tumour diagnosis.

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.

It is estimated that an inherited gene accounts for one around 5% of brain tumours. Certain genetic conditions may also increase your risk of developing a low or high grade brain tumour.

The risk of some brain tumour types, for example, meningioma or glioma, is higher if you had radiotherapy to your head as a child - particularly if this occurred before the age of five.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Information and Support line

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

support@thebraintumourcharity.org

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.

Get support

If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, we offer a wide range of inclusive and accessible support services for everyone affected by a brain tumour.