Brain Cancer


Abnormal growth of cells inside the brain causes brain cancer. Growth of cells build other brain components such as membranes, blood vessels etc. Brain cancer can be caused by primary brain cells and it can spread to the brain after being originated from any other part of the body. Brain cancer is commonly called brain tumor but all brain tumors except malignant ones are not cancerous.

Cancers of the brain are the result of unusual proliferation of cells in the brain. Brain cancers can occur from primary brain cells, from the cells forming other brain components or from the development of cancer cells from other body parts that have spread to the brain by the blood.

  • Albeit many growths in the brain are generally called brain tumors, not every brain tumors are fatal. Cancer is a term meant for malignant tumors.
  • Malignant tumors develop and spread fast, replacing healthy cells by taking their blood, space and nutrients.
  • Tumors that do not grow fast are called benign. Almost all tumors that originate in the brain do not proliferate to other parts of the body. The prominent differences between malignant and benign tumors are that malignant tumors can attach the brain tissues and develop fast.
  • In general terms, a benign tumor is less cancerous than a malignant tumor. Nevertheless, a benign tumor can still create many problems in the brain.

Types of Brain Cancer

Primary Brain Tumors

  • Cancers arises when one type of cell starts behaving abnormally and loses its normal characteristics.
  • As these abnormal cells proliferate, they become a lump of cells, or tumor.
  • Brain tumors that are result of this change and unusual growth of brain cells are termed as primary brain tumors as they originate in the brain.
  • The most general primary brain tumors are pituitary adenomas, gliomas, vestibular schwannomas, primitive neuroectodermal tumors and primary CNS lymphomas.

Brain tumors differ in their development rate and threatening level to cause symptoms. The cells in fast growing, cancerous tumors generally seem to be abnormal microscopically. A grading method is opted by The National Cancer Institute (NCI) to classify tumors. The NCI has specified the following grades:

  • Grade I: This is benign tissue. The cells look almost like normal brain cells, and cell growth is not fast.
  • Grade II: This tissue is malignant. The cell does not look like normal cells in a grade I tumor.
  • Grade III: The cells look very different from common cells. The unusual cells grow faster. These cells are called anaplastic.
  • Grade IV: The tissue looks most abnormal and in this stage proliferates very rapidly.

Metastatic Brain Tumors

Metastatic brain tumors are cancerous cells that travel through the bloodstream from a tumor elsewhere developed in the body. The most general cancers that travel to the brain are those originating from the lung, kidney and breast as well as malignant melanoma. The process of traveling of cells to the brain from another tumor is called metastasis. The process of metastasis occurs when cancer cells discard the primary cancer cell and invade either the lymphatic system to reach the blood or directly hit the bloodstream. These cancer cells ultimately reach the brain tissue traveling through the bloodstream where they grow into tumors.

In the US, there were 22,000 people suffering from brain tumors in 2009.

Signs & Symptoms

Some of the common signs and symptoms of brain tumors that cause brain cancer are:

  • Headache, mostly in the morning
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Changes in talking, hearing or seeing capability
  • Facing trouble with balancing or walking
  • Facing trouble while thinking
  • Jerk in muscle
  • Lack of sensation in arms or legs

Treatment of Brain Cancer

Treatment for brain cancer should be customized for each patient. Treatment sessions are based on the patient's age and general health condition as well as the size, location, kind, and state of the tumor. In most cases of brain cancer, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the major kinds of treatments. Sometimes, a combination of treatment is also used.

Types of Treatments for Brain Cancer

Treatment of brain cancer is generally complex. Most people with a brain tumor receive surgery.

  • The purpose of surgery is to identify that the abnormality witnessed in the brain cell is in virtually a tumor, to assign a grade to the tumor, and to eliminate the tumor. If the tumor cannot be destroyed, the surgeon will take sample of the tumor to identify its kind and grade.
  • In some cases, generally in benign tumors, symptoms can be totally cured by removal of the tumor. Patients may receive various treatments as well as procedures prior to surgery.

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays to terminate tumor cells and arrest their growth.

  • Radiation therapy is often used for those people who cannot receive surgery. In other cases, it is used post surgery to terminate any left out tumor cells.

Radiation can be administered in any of the two ways.

  • External radiation uses a high-power beam of radiation directed to the tumor. The beam passes through the skin, the skull, healthy brain cells, and other cells to reach the tumor. The treatments are generally conducted five days a week and it lasts for four to six weeks. Each treatment is of few minutes duration.
  • In internal or implant radiation a tiny radioactive capsule is used that is placed inside the tumor. The radiation coming from the capsule kills the tumor. The radioactivity of the capsule simmers down each day. The quantity of radioactivity of the capsule is carefully analyzed for its effectiveness when the optimal dose has been given.

Chemotherapy is the use of high power drugs to eliminate tumor cells.

  • A single drug or a blend of drugs may be used.
  • The drugs are administered orally or through an IV line. Two drugs, temozolomide (Temodar) and bevacizumab (Avastin), have been granted, of late, for the treatment of malignant gliomas. They are more effective, with less adverse effects compared to older drugs.
  • Chemotherapy is usually given in sessions. A session consists of a short duration of intensive treatment followed by a period of rest and recuperation. Each cycle lasts for a few weeks.
  • Most sessions are designed in a way so that two to four cycles are completed. Then there is a break in the treatment to watch the tumor’s response to the therapy.

New therapies for cancer are being invented all the time.

Brain Stem Cancer

Brainstem cancers are tumors that originate in the area of the brain termed as the brain stem, which is the space between the fourth ventricle and aqueduct of Sylvius. Although numerous methods are used to categorize these tumors, but the best of it divides brainstem gliomas into 3 different locations— tectal, diffuse intrinsic pontine, and cervicomedullary. Intrinsic pontine cancer carries a huge prognosis. Better survival rate is associated with the cervicomedullary gliomas and tectal. Tumors are also are divided on the basis of location of occurrence, hemorrhagedirection and stage of tumor growth, intensity of brainstem enlargement, degree of exophytic growth, necrosis, and hydrocephalus.

Brain Cancer – Prognosis

Survival percentage in primary brain tumors entirely based on the kind of tumor, age, body condition of the patient and the success of surgical tumor removal. Patients with benign gliomas may also survive for several years while survival in cases of the last stage of glioblastoma is restricted to a few months after diagnosis. In single metastatic tumors the prognosis is considered by the primary tumor, and it is generally bleak

Brain Cancer Awareness Month & Ribbon
Month May
Ribbon Gray Color



The exact cause of most brain tumors is not clear being the tumors elsewhere in the body. The under mentioned reasons have been believed to be the possible risk factors for primary brain tumors, but if these factors virtually increase the risk of a brain tumor is yet to be established

  • Radiation to the head
  • An genetic risk
  • Cigarette smoking
  • HIV infection
  • Environmental toxins

Test & Procedures

Following tests are conducted to detect brain cancer:

Neurological exam

The doctor during neurological examination asks about health history of the patient and his family. This information and neurological test result jointly helps to know if the person has brain cancer and the location of the cancerous tumor.

The neurological examination includes test of eye, ear, strength, thinking ability, sensation, balancing efficiency, coordination, and spontaneous reactions.


During angiogram X-ray pictures of brain’s arteries and veins are taken. To show the affected area clearly a contrast dye is injected into the main arteries of the head prior to the test.

Brain scans

During brain scan a contrast dye is injected into a vein in the upper limb. The brain tumor soaks more dye than ordinary brain tissue and becomes clearly visible on the scan.

CT scans

Doctors take 3-D pictures of the brain from different angles while scanning the head. After combining these pictures, a computer produces detailed and cross-sectional view that demonstrates abnormalities in the brain.

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)

The flow of water through white matter areas of the brain is measured during DTIs. The test shows the brain structure and the circuitry or wiring system inside it. Thus DTIs help in detecting the changes.


A small hole is drilled in the skull and a narrow, hollow needle is inserted into the tumor to remove a sample of the tumor. The sample then examined under microscope to know whether the tumor is cancerous or not.

In case of stereotactic biopsy the needle biopsy uses a computer and a 3-D scanning machine to locate the tumor.

Some other tests conducted to detect brain cancer are:

  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) scans
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)

Preventive Measures

It can be said that there is no specific way to prevent brain cancer. However, understanding the disease, early diagnosis and proper treatment can lessen the threat of metastatic brain cancer. According to experts the following preventive measures may lessen the risk of brain cancer:

  • Stay away from radiation
  • Stay away from toxic materials of rubber and oil industry
  • Avoid HIV infections
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t drink alcohol
  • Stop using hair dyes, pesticides and food those contain nitrates

Treatment Cost

As per experts’ estimation, treatment cost of brain cancer could be approximately $450,000. The treatment includes stay in hospital along with an attendant, food, doctor fee, and check up, surgery, medication and nursing.

Side Effects

Side effects of brain cancer treatment are temporary. Possible side effects of different treatment of brain cancer are:

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Skin damage
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Swelling in brain

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