Grades and types of brain tumor
Brain tumors are graded according to how fast they grow and how likely they are to grow back after treatment. Grade one and two tumors are low grades, and grade three and four tumors are high grades.
There are two main types of a brain tumor:
- non-cancerous (benign) brain tumors – are low grade (grade one or two), which means they grow slowly and are less likely to return after treatment
- cancerous (malignant) brain tumors – are high grade (grade three or four) and either start in the brain (primary tumors) or spread into the brain from elsewhere (secondary tumors); they’re more likely to grow back after treatment
Symptoms of a brain tumor
The symptoms of a brain tumor vary depending on the exact part of the brain affected. Common symptoms include:
- severe, persistent headaches
- seizures (fits)
- persistent nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
- mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality
- progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
- vision or speech problems
Sometimes, you may not have any symptoms to begin with or they may only develop very slowly over time.
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have the above symptoms, particularly if you have a severe and persistent headache. You may not have a brain tumor but these types of symptoms should be checked out.
If your GP can’t identify a more likely cause of your symptoms, they may refer you to a neurologist (a brain and nervous system specialist) for further assessment and tests, such as a brain scan.
Brain tumors can affect people of any age, including children, although they tend to be more common in older adults.
More than 9,000 people are diagnosed with primary brain tumors in the UK each year, of which about half are cancerous. Many others are diagnosed with secondary brain tumors.
Causes and risks
The cause of most brain tumors is unknown, but there are a number of risk factors that may increase your chances of developing a brain tumor.
Risk factors include:
- age – the risk of getting a brain tumor increases with age, although some types of a brain tumor are more common in children
- previous cancers – children who’ve had cancer have a higher risk of getting a brain tumor in later life; adults who’ve had leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma also have an increased risk
- radiation – exposure to radiation accounts for a very small number of brain tumors; some types of a brain tumor are more common in people who’ve had radiotherapy, CT scans or X-rays to the head
- family history and genetic conditions – some genetic conditions are known to increase the risk of getting a brain tumor, including tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2 and Turner syndrome
- HIV or AIDS – compared to the general population, you’re about twice as likely to develop a brain tumor if you have HIV or AIDS
The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the risks and causes of brain tumours.
Treating brain tumors
If you have a brain tumor your recommended treatment will depend on:
- the type of a tumour
- where it is in your brain
- how big it is and how far it’s spread
- how abnormal the cells are
- your overall level of health and fitness
Treatments for brain tumors include:
After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, steroids may be prescribed to help reduce swelling around the tumor.
Surgery is often used to remove brain tumors. The aim is to remove as much abnormal tissue as safely as possible.
It isn’t always possible to remove all of the tumors, so further treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be needed to treat any abnormal cells left behind.
Treatment for non-cancerous tumors is often successful and a full recovery is possible. Sometimes, there’s a small chance the tumor could return, so you may need regular follow-up appointments to monitor this.
The Cancer Research UK website has more information about treatment for brain tumors.
If you have a brain tumor, your outlook will depend on a number of factors including:
- your age
- the type of a tumour you have
- where it is in your brain
- how effective the treatment is
- your general level of health
Survival rates are difficult to predict because brain tumors are rare and there are many different types. Your doctor will be able to give you more information about your outlook.
Generally, around 15 out of every 100 people with a cancerous brain tumor will survive for five years or more after being diagnosed.
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