Your body is making new cells to replace older or damaged ones all the time. A tumor starts when cells change and start to grow out of control. Tumors can be cancer (malignant) or not cancer (benign).
A benign tumor will stay where it is and tends to grow slowly.
A malignant tumor can grow into nearby tissues and tends to grow faster. Most other cancers can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. But tumors that start in the brain rarely do this.
Types of brain tumors
A primary brain tumor is one that starts in cells that make up the brain. It may be benign or malignant. At this time, scientists don’t know what causes primary brain tumors.
A metastatic brain tumor comes from cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the brain. These are the most common kind of brain tumor.
Either type of tumor can damage the brain by spreading through it, or by pressing on and squeezing the brain inside the skull. Because of this, any type of brain tumor can be dangerous, because it can grow large enough to affect different parts of the brain.
These are the most common primary brain tumors:
There are many other types of brain tumors that are less common.
How are brain tumors diagnosed?
Most brain tumors cause headaches, vision changes, and balance problems. Behavior may change. These problems lead a person to seek medical care.
If a brain tumor is suspected, the first test done is often imaging with an MRI of the brain. If an MRI can't be done, a CT scan might be done. These tests give a clear picture of the brain and nearby tissue.
A small piece (sample) of tumor tissue (biopsy) is often needed. The sample is taken during surgery. The sample is tested to find out what kind of brain tumor it is and how fast it's growing.
How are brain tumors treated?
There are a lot of different ways to treat brain tumors. You will talk with your treatment team to decide on the best treatment plan for you. Your options depend on things like the kind of tumor you have, where the tumor is, how fast it's growing, problems it's causing, and your preferences.
Most brain tumors need to be treated right away. Surgery is done to treat most primary brain tumors. Sometimes radiation therapy or chemotherapy are done after surgery. Other treatments may be used. These depend on the kind of tumor.
A brain tumor may cause other problems such as nausea, headaches, seizures, or brain swelling. These problems are also treated.
You can do your normal activities as you feel up to it. But if you've had a seizure or fainted, you should not drive, take baths alone, or swim until your healthcare provider says it’s safe. Take any seizure medicine as directed to help prevent another episode.
If you have headaches or nauseas, use the medicines you are given.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed.
When to seek medical advice
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:
New seizures or seizures that keep happening
You feel less alert or it’s hard to wake you up
New changes to your vision, speech, or hearing
Weakness on one side of your body or loss of coordination and balance
Trouble thinking, speaking, or getting your words out
Ask your healthcare provider who you should call and what number you should use if you have problems at home. Be sure you know how to get help anytime, including after office hours and on weekends and holidays.