An Overview of Brain Tumors: Things You Should Know

Find out more about the different brain tumor causes, types and treatment.

Cancer is a name that is used to describe an abnormality with cells in the body, which causes cells to malfunction, grow too fast and multiply at an uncontrollable rate.

An Overview of Brain Tumors: Things You Should Know
A cancerous or noncancerous mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Shutterstock Images

The term is used to describe over 200 different diseases that are all considered fatal if the patient does not obtain appropriate treatment.

While certain cancers can be treated with a high success rate, there are some cancers that are considered untreatable.

In such a case, a doctor that is appointed to compile a treatment plan for a patient will rather focus on administering treatment measures on the patient that will assist with reducing the severity of the symptoms they experience during the course of their cancer.

Fortunately, research is frequently being conducted on new interventions for treating all types of cancers and, as more treatment options are discovered, cancer is becoming more treatable and the survival rate of these diseases are also increasing significantly.

In this report, we want to focus on brain cancer and the tumors that are associated with this type of cancer.

As the name suggests, brain tumors form in the human brain and cause a range of different symptoms.

We are going to discuss the different types of brain tumors, as well as how brain cancer can develop.

We are also going to take a look at what may cause brain tumors to develop, point out some factors that may increase your risk of developing this type of tumor and also consider the treatment options that can be utilized at the moment for brain tumors.

Furthermore, we are also going to consider the outlook for patients with brain tumors and take a quick look at emerging treatment measures that are considered potentially effective.

A Brief Overview of the Brain

We would like to get started by discussing the anatomy and function of the brain.

To thoroughly understand brain cancer and brain tumors, it is also important to know about the different parts of the brain, as well as how the brain functions.

First, it is vital to understand that the brain is responsible for all body functions, as well as for who we are.

Without the brain, a person would not be able to process information, store memories and access the memories that have been stored, or have a personality.

The brain also allows a person to observe the outside world through their eyes and ears, enables the human body to feel and, of course, to speak.

Walking, writing and many other activities are made possible by the brain.

Thus, we can consider the brain the center of our entire “being” and the most important organ in the body – yes, without a heart we cannot live, but when the brain is not working while the heart is, we would also technically not be “living”.

We should also take a look at the structure of the brain and not only the activities it allows us to do.

Firstly, we would like to note that, according to the Chi-Mei Medical Center[1] in Taiwan, the brain consists of approximately 60% fat – this is quite an interesting fact.

John Hopkins Medicine[2] explains that the brain is made up of three primary parts, which includes:

Overview Human Brain

Brain is a vital organ and control center for all the function of the body. Shutterstock Images

The Cerebrum – This is the brain’s outer part and also the largest of the three main parts.

The cerebrum controls numerous functions that we execute on a daily basis without even considering what is the driving force behind these abilities.

These functions include our ability to think and learn, to read and to feel (and express) emotions.

The cerebrum is also responsible for our ability to speak.

It also controls our basic senses, such as sight and our ability to hear.

Furthermore, the cerebrum controls the movement of muscles – for example, when we walk, it is this part of the brain that controls the muscle movements that allows us to walk.

The cerebrum is divided into two parts, each of which consists of different lobes, including a frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and an occipital lobe.

The left part of the cerebrum is responsible for controlling the right side of the human body, while the right side of the cerebrum is in control of the body’s left side.

Each of the lobes found in these two cerebrum halves has its own particular functions.

The Cerebellum – The cerebellum is found at the back of our brains and is responsible for actions such as coordination and balance.

The cerebellum also controls any fine muscle movements – it also interacts with our ability to walk, just like the cerebrum does.

It is also important to note that the cerebellum has an important role to play in our posture and many other factors related to an overall balance in the body.

The Brain Stem – The third and final main part of the brain is the brain stem.

This part is located at the lower end of the brain and acts as a connection between the spinal cord and the cerebellum.

The brainstem consists of the medulla, pons and the midbrain. While this part may seem somewhat smaller than the others, it also has vital roles to play in the human body.

The brain stem controls eye movements and our breathing – yes, that’s why breathing is a natural process that we do not have to “remember” to do.

The brain stem also regulates heartbeat and blood pressure, as well as swallowing.

Prevalence and Outlook of Brain Tumors

Now that we understand how the brain works, we should move on to discussing brain tumors and related topics.

First, however, we want to provide some vital statistics about the prevalence of brain tumors, and also take a look at the outlook of brain tumors in patients diagnosed with this type of cancer.

The American Brain Tumor Association reports that as much as 80,000 patients will be diagnosed with primary brain tumors in 2017 – this only accounts for primary brain tumors and not secondary ones that have spread to the brain from another location.

They also report that approximately 32% of these cases will be diagnosed as malignant, which means the tumors contain cancerous cells.

By considering these statistics, it is expected that, in 2017, around 26,000 individuals will be diagnosed with brain cancer and about 53,000 individuals will be diagnosed with a benign tumor in their brain.

Furthermore, we would also like to note that, at the moment, there are almost 700,000 individuals that have been diagnosed with a primary brain tumor or a tumor in their central nervous system in the United States.

When it comes to a patient’s outlook after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor – it is reported that around 17,000 patients will pass away as a result of brain cancer in 2017.

Thus, we can look at it this way – for every 53,000 individuals diagnosed, around 17,000 will lose their battle against malignant brain tumors.

This means that, when we compare these two statistics, the mortality rate calculates to around 32% – but this is only based on data related to a single year’s statistics.

The Brain Tumour Charity offers[3] more detailed information about the outlook a person can expect when they have been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

  • 80% of patients with a grade one meningioma brain tumor survives for at least five years after being diagnosed. When a meningioma brain tumor reaches grade 3, however, the five-year survival rate drops to lower than 60%.
  • Up to 78% of patients with a grade two oligodendroglioma brain tumor survives for at least the first five years following their initial diagnoses. At grade three, the survival rate reduces to around 38%.
  • Patients diagnosed with and treated for a grade two astrocytoma brain tumor usually lives about six to eight years following their surgery. Around 40% live for 10 years or longer, however. When this type of brain tumor reaches grade three, the five-year survival outlook drops to 27%.
  • A grade four glioblastoma brain tumor has quite a low survival rate, with the average patient surviving for up to 12 months after their initial diagnosis. Approximately 20% of patients are able to survive for longer, but only about 3% of the patients are able to make it up to three years or longer.

Note that these are all specific types of brain tumors and does not cover every single type of malignant tumor that may develop.

The National Cancer Institute[4] provides broader statistics – they report that, when no particular brain tumor type is taken into account, around 33.6% of diagnosed patients will survive past the first five years.

They also report that brain cancer accounts for approximately 1.4% of all new cancer diagnosis and approximately 2.8% of all cancer-related deaths.

Types of Brain Tumors

Let’s move on to discussing what a brain tumor is and, of course, the different types of brain tumors that can develop.

A brain tumor is growing, also sometimes called a “mass,” that resides within the brain. When cells in the brain start to multiply in an abnormal way, a lump can form in the brain, which is essentially what a tumor is – a collection of malfunctioning cells.

A brain tumor can occur in various regions of the brain and there are different types of tumors that can form in the brain; thus, simply referring to “brain tumors” or “brain cancer” is extremely vague.

While some types of brain tumors are cancerous, others rather interfere with certain activities by pushing against essential parts of the brain.

To better understand what types of brain tumors can develop, we are going to take a look at several factors that should always be considered when it is expected that a particular patient may have a tumor in their brain.

The Difference Between Primary Brain Tumors and Secondary Brain Tumors

First, we should distinguish between primary and secondary brain tumors. Secondary brain tumors are also often called metastatic brain tumors.

We are going to discuss each of these brain tumor types separately to better identify the differences between them.

  • Primary Brain Tumor – A primary brain tumor refers to a cancerous, or malignant, brain tumor that develops inside the brain itself. These tumors are not the result of cancer developing in a different part of the body and spreading towards the brain.
  • Secondary Brain Tumor – A secondary brain tumor refers to a cancerous brain tumor that develops in the brain when the brain was not the initial source of cancer. When this type of tumor develops, it means cancerous cells have broken off from another tumor and traveled towards the brain through the patient’s bloodstream. Due to the metastases of cancer, which means cancer has spread to other parts of the body, a secondary brain tumor means the particular patient’s cancer will be more difficult to treat effectively since multiple parts of their body have been affected at this point.

The Difference Between Benign Brain Tumors and Malignant Brain Tumors

We also need to discuss the differences between a benign and malignant brain tumor as the one is cancerous and the other one not.

This also means that certain tumors that develop in the brain is not as harmful as others – and it is important to know them by name.

When a patient understands the difference between a benign tumor in the brain and a malignant one, they will be able to better understand their diagnosis when a doctor initially discusses it with them.

  • Benign Brain Tumor – A benign tumor[5] is a mass of malfunctioning cells that have formed in the brain without exerting the same characteristics as those that are found in a cancerous tumor. Benign brain tumors can be divided into two classes: benign and relatively benign. It is important to note that, even though called “benign”, such a tumor in the brain is not the same as benign tumors in other locations of the body. In many cases, benign tumors are considered harmless – a benign brain tumor, however, can be life-threatening. The brain is surrounded by the skull and when a benign tumor develops in the brain, the limited space can lead to compression on the brain, ventricles, nerves and other vital parts of the brain. Fortunately, the majority of diagnosed benign tumors in the brain can be successfully removed and they do not recur after their initial removal. It is also important to note that it is extremely rare for a benign brain tumor to develop into a cancerous brain tumor. This type of tumor usually grows at a relatively slow rate.
  • Malignant Brain Tumor – When the mass that has formed due to cells growing and multiplying rapidly contains cells that has the characteristics of cancer, then the tumor is classified as malignant. This is a more harmful type of brain tumor and is also the one that usually leads to mortality – in cases where patients are unable to win the battle against brain cancer. Malignant brain tumors are usually fast-growing. They often invade brain tissue and spreads towards other regions in the brain. It is also found that cancerous brain tumors[6] sometimes spread to the spine as well.

The Most Common Types of Primary Brain Tumors

We should now focus on the particular types of brain tumors that can be diagnosed in patients following the appropriate examinations, tests, and scans.

We are going to divide the types of brain tumors into two categories – those that often tend to start within glial tissue found in the brain and, of course, those that tend to develop in other areas of the brain.

Brain Tumors that Start in the Glial Tissue

Let’s first discuss the types of brain tumors that often tends to develop in particular areas of the brain where glial tissue, or glial cells, are present.

These cells are often considered support cells.

They are significantly smaller than nerve cells, but there is a much larger amount of glial tissue present compared to nerve cells.

Glial cells are vital for nervous tissue.

There are different types of glial cells, including neuroglial cells, ependymal cells, Schwann cells, capsular cells (also sometimes called satellite cells) and addition supportive cells.

Now, let’s take a look at the particular brain tumors that starts to develop in glial tissue within the brain.

Astrocytomas – Astrocytomas tumors develop from cells that are known as astrocytes.

These cells are star-shaped, and they are found throughout the brain.

Astrocytomas are usually detected in the cerebrum in adults and in the brain stem among children.

When an astrocytomas tumor advances to a grade three tumor, it is often called an anaplastic astrocytoma.

When an astrocytomas tumor advances to a grade four tumor, it is often called a glioblastoma multiforme.

Oligodendrogliomas – Oligodendrogliomas are usually detected in the cerebrum and rarely affects other parts of the brain.

This type of tumor develops from particular cells in the brain that produces a fatty covering over nerves.

The fatty substance is called myelin.

Ependymomas – Ependymomas is a type of brain tumor that is most often detected in children and teenagers.

This type of tumor develops within the lining of the ventricles and is sometimes also found in the patient’s spinal cord.

Brain Tumors that does not Start in the Glial Tissue

While it is common for a brain tumor to develop in glial tissue within the brain, especially since a large number of glial cells are found in this particular area of the body, there are some tumors that can also start to develop in other tissues in the brain.

Let’s discuss these particular types of tumors.

Meningiomas – Meningiomas are, in most cases, a benign brain tumor.

It has a slow growth rate, which allows the brain to adjust in such a way to accommodate the presence of the tumor prior to removal.

This means that a benign meningiomas tumor will most likely not cause damage to brain tissue due to compression.

Schwannomas – Schwannomas are another type of benign brain tumor.

They affect Schwann cells, which is a particular cell that serves as a myelin producer.

Myelin, in turn, serves as a protection for peripheral nerves.

Note that women are two times more likely than men to develop this particular type of benign brain tumor.

Craniopharyngiomas – Craniopharyngiomas are usually diagnosed in children and teenagers, but they can occur in adults as well.

In most cases, a Craniopharyngiomas is diagnosed as a benign tumor.

There are cases, however, where this type of tumor is diagnosed as malignant when the tumor itself adds pressure upon the hypothalamus and causes damage to the surrounding tissue.

Note that this type of tumor does not develop directly inside the hypothalamus, but rather in regions that are close to this part of the brain. The hypothalamus is found in the pituitary gland.

Pineal Region Tumors – In the center of the human brain, a region exists that is known as the pineal gland.

Pineal region tumors can develop in this particular area.

It is important to understand that the pineal gland is considered the hardest part to reach in the brain, which is why doctors are often unable to remove a pineal region tumor through surgery.

Pineal region tumors can be divided into two categories.

The first is called pineocytoma, which refers to a tumor in this particular area that grows at a slow rate.

The second is called pineoblastoma and refers to faster-growing tumors in the pineal gland.

The Most Common Forms of Brain Metastases

In the section above, we discussed the most common types of brain tumors that develop inside the brain.

The tumors we discussed are classified as primary brain tumors as they all start inside the brain.

As previously described, when cancer spreads from another part of the body to the brain, it is called secondary brain tumors or brain metastases.

Any type of cancer can spread to any part of the body, including the brain. According to the Canadian Cancer Society[7], however, certain cancer types seems to affect the brain more than others once they do start to spread. These include:

Causes and Risk Factors of Brain Tumors

Risk Factors of Brain Tumors

Some environmental and genetic factor is responsible for the development of brain cancer. Shutterstock Images

Just like with most other types of cancers, medical researchers have not yet been able to discover what exactly causes tumors to develop in the brain.

It is know-how they form, but why the particular cells that form the tumor start to malfunction are not fully understood.

While no known causes exist, medical researchers have determined that certain risk factors exist, which causes the risk of developing a brain tumor to increase to some degree.

Let’s take a look at these risk factors, as reported by Cancer Research UK[8].

  • Age-Related Risk Factors – It is important to know that brain tumor is not necessarily linked to age. A patient can develop a tumor in their brain at any age. There are, however, certain types of these tumors that are diagnosed more frequently in teenagers, children, and seniors. For example, astrocytoma, brain stem glioma, and choroid plexus tumors are more prevalent amongst children.
  • ObesityObesity is a health concern associated with quite a large number of medical diseases – including cancer. It is a known fact that cancer is more commonly diagnosed in overweight and obese patients. According to Livescience[9], recent medical research suggests that obese patients are around 50% more likely to develop a particular type of brain tumor, known as meningioma.
  • HIV – It also seems like there is a connection between a higher risk of developing brain tumors and patients who have been diagnosed with the HIV virus. In fact, medical research suggests that patients with HIV is twice as likely to develop a brain tumor when compared to a patient that does not have the HIV virus.
  • Genetics – Similar to other types of cancer, genetics also seems to play a part in brain tumors. Certain genetically inherited syndromes can increase a patient’s risk of developing a tumor in their brain. The particular syndromes that increase the patient’s risk include neurofibromatosis, Turner syndrome, Gorlin syndrome, Turcot syndrome, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

Apart from the risk factors we have discussed above, medical experts have also discovered that previous cancers may also increase the likeliness of developing a brain tumor in a patient.

Particular cancers that seem to have the most significant impact as a risk factor include non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia.

Should a patient’s head have been exposed to medical radiation in the past, such as to treat meningioma or another issue, then they are also more likely to develop a brain tumor.

Symptoms of Brain Tumors

Brain tumors can lead to numerous systems due to the fact that the brain is technically in control of the entire human body.

Some people, however, do not experience a significant amount or level of symptoms at the beginning stages of the tumor’s formation, which is often why a tumor may be diagnosed in a more advanced stage.

It is also important to note that the symptoms that a brain tumor can cause[10] are divided into two categories – these include general symptoms and specific symptoms.

Let’s take a look at these two categories separately to better understand how certain symptoms develop.

General Brain Tumor Symptoms

General brain tumor symptoms are not caused by a tumor that is invading or damaging brain tissue, but rather by the pressure that the tumor is placing upon certain regions of the brain.

Since different parts of the brain are responsible for different actions and functions of the body, discussing the particular general symptoms with a doctor can often help to establish where the tumor is likely developing.

General brain tumor symptoms may include:

  • Headaches – Headaches are a common symptom of brain tumors that are putting pressure on certain parts of the brain. Patients usually find that their headaches are worse in the morning. In many cases, headaches also become more severe during certain activities.
  • Motor Seizures – Motor seizures can also occur when particular areas of the brain are compressed due to the developing tumor. Motor seizures refer to involuntary muscle movements that often occur unexpectedly and suddenly. There are different types of motor seizures that a patient may experience, including myoclonic motor seizures, tonic-clonic or grand mal motor seizures, sensory-motor seizures and complex partial motor seizures.
  • Psychological Symptoms – Numerous psychological symptoms may develop. This may include changes in the patient’s ability to store and recall memories, as well as changes in their personality.
  • Physiological Symptoms – Apart from the psychological symptoms, the headaches, and the motor seizures, other types of symptoms may also develop that are related to the patient’s physiology. These symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and fatigue. Some patients find that their ability to walk changes. In some cases, patients may also experience problems with their sleep.
Brain Tumor Symptoms Info

Brain tumors symptoms may vary depending on its type, and size in the brain.

Specific Brain Tumor Symptoms

While general brain tumor symptoms occur due to pressure on the brain from the tumor, specific brain tumor symptoms develop when a particular region of the brain is affected in some way by the tumor.

This may include damage done to brain tissue due to the cancerous cells of the tumor invading the normal, healthy cells in the surrounding area.

Specific brain tumor symptoms may include:

  • Headaches And Pressure – Headaches may also be specific to the tumor’s location in the brain. In such a case, however, the headache will be experienced in the particular location where the tumor is located. Pressure may also be felt in this particular region.
  • Unbalanced – When a tumor is affecting the cerebellum, a patient may experience a loss of their balance. Problems with their fine motor skills may also develop.
  • Judgment Changes – When the cerebrum’s frontal lobe is affected by a tumor, then a person’s judgment may also be affected. The changes may cause the person to become sluggish and make them lose their initiative. Muscle weakness is also another common symptoms.
  • Vision Changes – When the cerebrum’s temporal lobe or occipital lobe is affected by the tumor, then the patient may experience vision changes. Such vision changes may include a partial loss of vision. In some cases, however, the patient may experience a complete loss of their vision. When the pineal gland is affected by a tumor, the patient may not be able to look in an upwards direction. A tumor that affects the brain stem, occipital lobe or the temporal lobe may also lead to double vision.

While these are some of the most common specific brain tumor symptoms, other symptoms may also develop.

Additional symptoms may include lactation in women, as well as an alteration in their menstrual periods.

Facial numbness and weakness, as well as finding it difficult to swallow can also be symptoms.

Furthermore, when changes in a patient’s emotional state are noticed, which may include aggressiveness, or not being able to thoroughly understand problems, this may also be a sign of a developing tumor.

It is also important to note that weakness in the leg or arm on a particular side of the body may also be one of the symptoms caused by a tumor.

Diagnosis of Brain Tumors

When a patient experiences symptoms that are associated with a brain tumor, a doctor will start by analyzing certain aspects of the symptoms and the patient.

The patient’s age will be taken into consideration, as well as their general well-being.

A medical history will also be requested and the doctor will ask the patient whether or not they have a family history of any cancers.

The next step is to conduct a series of tests to determine whether a tumor is present and, should the tumor be present, determine the type of tumor, the grade of the tumor and how severe the disease is.

According to[11], a patient expected of a brain tumor will first be sent for an MRI scan, also known as a magnetic resonance imaging scan.

Instead of using X-rays, this type of scan utilizes magnetic fields to display detailed images of the brain on a monitor.

The MRI scan will help the doctor determine if a tumor is indeed present in the patient’s brain.

In addition to assisting with the detection of a brain tumor, an MRI scan is also utilized to determine the size of the tumor that is causing the symptoms.

Note that an MRI-enhancing dye is given to the particular patient prior to the MRI scan.

This dye can be administered via a capsule or via intravenous administration.

The dye is used to enhance the clarity of the images that are displayed on the monitor while the MRI scan is being taken.

Should a tumor be detected, the next step is to determine whether the tumor is benign or malignant, and what particular type of tumor it is.

This can be done through a process called a biopsy.

During a biopsy, a small part of the tumor is removed and then inspected.

It is not possible to diagnose a brain tumor without first inspecting a sample of the tumor.

In some cases, especially when the tumor is causing problems, a doctor may prefer to remove the entire tumor and use the removed tumor for a biopsy.

Other tests that may also be requested for further information and to help the doctor make a more accurate diagnosis include:

  • A CT Scan.
  • A PET Scan, also known as a positron emission tomography scan.
  • A Lumbar puncture.
  • A spinal tap.

A Cerebral arteriogram. Some doctors may also refer to this test as a cerebral angiogram.

Treatment Options for Brain Tumors

Surgical Treatment

Brain tumor can be treated with surgical treatments and radiation therapy. Shutterstock Images

In addition to knowing what symptoms a brain tumor can cause, as well as how the disease is diagnosed, we should also discuss the current available treatment options that can be utilized to remove the tumor or to destroy the cancerous cells that have formed the lump in the patient’s brain.

There are three particular options that are often utilized to assist with shrinking the tumor, destroying its cells and removing it.

Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, so we should take a look at each of these options.

Surgical Treatments

The University of California San Francisco’s Medical Center[12] explains that surgery is most often recommended to remove a brain tumor.

The skull that surrounds the brain causes a limitation on the space that is available for a tumor to grow.

For this reason, when a tumor in the brain occurs, it may lead to pressure on the brain.

This can not only lead to particular symptoms related to the areas where the pressure is applied but can also cause damage to brain tissue.

For this reason, surgery is often the most appropriate way to treat a brain tumor as this will release the pressure that is placed on the brain by the tumor.

In some cases, it may not be possible to remove all parts of the tumor.

When it is not possible to remove all of the tumors, a doctor will focus on removing as much as possible during the surgery.

Removal of the largest part means the tumor will be significantly smaller after the surgery in most cases, which means the doctor can treat the tumor with either of the other two main treatment options following the surgery.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is often utilized as a treatment measure after surgery has been performed to remove a brain tumor as, in some instances, not all of the tumor can be removed successfully by the surgeon.

When the tumor has developed in a particular area of the brain that is not possible to reach through surgery, radiation therapy is also often used.

This treatment option utilizes powerful rays that can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells by damaging the cells that are causing the lump to develop.

The particular area that will be targeted with radiation therapy depends on the severity of the affected patient’s brain cancer.

In some cases, the rays may target just the tumor.

In more advanced cases, the tissue that surrounds the tumor may also be targeted, as well as other parts of the brain.


In addition to surgery and radiation therapy, chemotherapy also poses as a potentially effective treatment option in many cases.

This treatment option involves the utilization of certain drugs to assist with damaging and killing off the cells that are causing the cancerous tumor’s development.

Chemotherapy drugs often come with side-effects; thus doctors administer these drugs to the patient in cycles.

Drugs can be given through an injection directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, which is an option known as intrathecal chemotherapy.

With convection enhanced delivery, the drugs can also be placed into the particular area where the tumor is located.

More common ways of administering chemotherapy drugs include oral administration, as well as an injection into muscles or into the bloodstream.

Read Next: Everything You Need To Know About World Brain Tumor Day


Brain tumors can affect any person – from young children to senior citizens.

These tumors can be cancerous or non-cancerous and can lead to various symptoms.

Once diagnosed, a patient needs to obtain adequate treatment measures to ensure the tumor is dealt with accordingly and as fast as possible to avoid the tumor from growing larger and invading other parts of their brain.

While the primary types of treatment for brain tumors currently include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, research is being conducted to discover more advanced and effective methods for treating brain cancer.

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