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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. Grades 3 and 4 are defined as cancerous, high grade tumours.

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?

A brain cancer diagnosis is a diagnosis of a grade 3 or 4 brain tumour. These are tumours where the tumour cells grow more rapidly and are more likely to spread within the brain.

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

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

There are over 150 types of brain tumour, but not all of these are cancerous.

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What treatment do people with a similar diagnosis have first?

If you’ve just been diagnosed with brain cancer and are about to have treatment, you may want to see what other people’s first treatment was. Use the First Treatment insight in BRIAN, which you can personalise to make it relevant to you.

What are the symptoms of brain cancer?

When a tumour grows it can cause damage to the brain by pressing on the surrounding cells, affecting how they function. A tumour can also block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the brain, leading to increased pressure within the brain, which can also cause damage.

Symptoms, therefore, will depend on where the tumour is in the brain and which functions that area of the brain controls.

Brain cancer symptoms can include:

  • headaches
  • changes in vision
  • nausea and dizziness
  • seizures
  • tiredness
  • loss of taste and smell.

Find out more

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How is brain cancer treated?

This will depend on what type of brain tumour you have and where it is in the brain. Generally, treatment for brain cancer is surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of these.

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What causes brain cancer?

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

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

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How long can someone live with brain cancer?

The prognosis for brain cancer varies from type to type and person to person. It will depend on a lot of factors, such as the:

  • type of brain cancer you have
  • location of the tumour within the brain
  • success of surgery (where used)
  • tumour’s reaction to treatment
  • tumour’s molecular/genetic make-up (to a certain extent)
  • individual biology of the person affected.

For this reason, it’s very difficult to predict what will happen in your situation, but your healthcare team will be best placed to advise you on your individual circumstances and prognosis.

It’s very important to remember that any prognosis statistics will only be an average.

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Frequently asked questions

The term ‘cure’ is rarely used with brain cancer as, despite successful treatment, the cancer can often return. But people can live for many years, depending on their circumstances.

Also some brain cancers are considered inoperable (meaning they can’t be removed with surgery) if they’re too close to vital structures of the brain. Operating could result in damage to healthy brain tissue in these areas, for example, those that control movement, sight or breathing.

Your healthcare team are best placed to advise you on your individual circumstances.

If your brain cancer type is classed as terminal, this means the tumour itself can’t be adequately treated, but you’ll still be given treatment to treat the side-effects and make you more comfortable.

This can be very difficult to deal with. Speak with your healthcare 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 by emailing

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:
Support and Information Services
0808 800 0004 Free from landlines and mobiles
Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00
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If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.

Share your experiences and help create change

By taking part in our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys and sharing your experiences, you can help us improve treatment and care for everyone affected by a brain tumour.