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There are over 130 known types of brain tumour. These can be high grade (cancerous) or low grade (non-cancerous).
We’ve listed the different types of brain tumour below, with links where we have further information. This list is based on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) latest classification of brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumours.
For the first time, the WHO’s classification defines tumours by their molecular features, not just what the tumour looks like under a microscope (histology).
The presence or absence of certain molecules or gene changes (biomarkers) can give your health team more information about your tumour, how it’s likely to respond to a treatment and how it’s likely to progress.
Visit our biomarkers page to learn more about them and find more about getting a biomarker test.
NOS stands for ‘not otherwise specified’. This designation is given when either:
Click below to find out more about the different groups of brain tumour.
Astrocytomas are the most common type of primary brain tumour within the group known as gliomas. Primary means the tumour started in the brain instead of spreading from elsewhere. Astrocytomas grow from a type of brain cell called an astrocyte.
Oligodendrogliomas are the third most common type of glioma. They grow from a type of brain cell called an oligodendrocyte. About 2-5% of all primary brain tumours are oligodendrogliomas.
Ependymomas are a type of glioma, and are most commonly found in children. They are the third most common childhood brain tumour. They grow from ependymal cells, which line the ventricles of the brain (the fluid-filled spaces in and around the brain).
Find out more about ependymomas.
Oligoastrocytomas are tumours that have characteristics of both oligodendrogliomas (from oligodendrocytes) and astrocytomas (from astrocytes). They used to be classified as ‘unspecified’ or ‘mixed’ gliomas.
Gliomas grow from a type of brain cell called a glial cell. There are different types of glial cell, the main ones being astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells. These give rise to astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas and ependymomas, respectively. But there are other, rarer types of glioma.
Choroid plexus tumours grow within the ventricles of the brain. They can block the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) from circulating and draining, causing pressure to build up in the skull.
Embryonal tumours, previously known as primitive neuro-ectodermal tumours (PNETs), develop from cells left over from the earliest stages of our development – the embryonal stages. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of embryonal tumours are medulloblastomas.
Germ cell tumours grow from germ cells – cells that are involved in our growth when we’re developing in the womb. Most germ cell tumours grow outside the brain, but those that grow in the brain usually occur in the area near the pituitary gland and pineal gland, at the base of the brain.
Histiocytes are a type of cell that make up part of the immune system. Histiocytic diseases happen when there’s an over-production of these cells, which can lead to organ damage and the formation of tumours.
A lymphoma is a tumour caused by lymph cells (a type of white blood cell) growing in an uncontrolled way. Lymph cells help the body to fight infection. Rarely, lymphomas can form in the central nervous system (CNS). About 5% of brain and spinal cord tumours are lymphomas.
Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its colour. Melanocytes are found in various places in the body, including in the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain. Very rarely, tumours can grow from the melanocytes in the meninges.
Meningiomas grow in the set of three membranes (meninges) that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord just inside the skull. Almost a quarter of all brain tumours in adults are meningiomas.
Mesenchymal tumours arise from connective tissue. Connective tissue supports and connects the body’s organs, and is also found in the joints. If mesenchymal tumours are cancerous (malignant), they are called soft tissue sarcomas. Mesenchymal tumours may occur in the central nervous system and brain.
A metastatic or secondary brain tumour is a tumour that started somewhere else in the body (such as the lung) and then spread to the brain. While a primary brain tumour is a tumour that started in the brain.
These tumours are rare and mostly non-cancerous. Most brain and central nervous system tumours grow from glial cells (see above). But neuronal tumours grow from neurons, a type of nerve cell that sends messages to and from the brain. Mixed neuronal-glial tumours grow from abnormal neurons and glial cells.
Tumours in the pineal region are rare. The pineal region is the area around the pineal gland. This gland sits behind the brain stem, in the centre of the brain. It produces melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep.
Pituitary tumours, sometimes called pituitary adenomas, develop from the tissue of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is at the base of the brain. It controls other glands in the body, which in turn control many of the body’s functions.
These are tumours that grow from the nerves coming from the brain (cranial nerves) and spine (spinal nerves). The most common type of cranial nerve tumour is a vestibular schwannoma (sometimes called an acoustic neuroma). It affects the nerve that runs from the brain to the ear.
The sellar region is at the base of the brain, near the pituitary gland. Due to their position, tumours that grow here are often associated with vision and growth problems.