Types of brain tumour

Brain tumours can be malignant, slow growing or benign. Knowing the type helps decide on the best treatment for you.

The most common brain tumour is a glioma. There are different types of gliomas. This includes astrocytomas and glioblastomas as well as oligodendrogliomas, mixed gliomas and ependymomas. Some grow slowly while others grow more quickly.

Meningioma is a common brain tumour. It starts in the meninges, the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, and is usually benign.

A lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. It’s rare for it to start in the brain. When it does it’s called a primary CNS lymphoma.

An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumour of the hearing nerve. Another benign brain tumour that starts in cells lining blood vessels is a haemangioblastomas.

Tumours that start in the pituitary gland, which helps control hormones, are also benign. Different tumours can start in the spinal cord and are usually benign.

Tumours of the pineal gland, such as germinomas and teratomas, are rare. They can be slow or fast growing.

Medulloblastoma tumours are rare in adults but more common in children.

Different types of brain tumours

There are lots of different types of brain tumour that behave in different ways. They can be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancerous). Brain tumours are often named after the cell they develop from or the part of the brain they start in.

Knowing the type of tumour helps you and your doctors to decide on the best treatment plan for you. If you’re not sure what type of brain tumour you have, you can ask your doctor or specialist nurse.


More than half of all primary brain tumours are gliomas. These develop from the main supporting cells in the brain called glial cells. Different types of gliomas are named after the different types of glial cells.


Astrocytoma is the most common glioma. It develops from starshaped cells called astrocytes.

There are three types:

  • Astrocytoma – are low-grade gliomas (grade 1 or 2)
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma – are grade 3 gliomas
  • Glioblastoma or glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) – are grade 4 gliomas.


Oligodendrogliomas start in oligodendrocyte cells. These are cells that cover nerve cells. Oligodendroglioma can be a slow-growing, grade 2 tumour, or a faster-growing, grade 3 tumour.

Mixed gliomas

Mixed gliomas are made of more than one type of cell. For example, oligo-astrocytomas are a mixture of astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.


Ependymomas are a rare glioma that start in the cells lining the fluid-filled spaces in the brain (ventricles) and the spinal cord. They are usually slow-growing.


Meningiomas start in the meninges, which are the tissues that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord. They are usually low-grade, benign tumours that grow very slowly. Occasionally meningiomas are malignant. They are a common type of brain tumour.

Central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma

A lymphoma is a malignant tumour of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps defend us against infection and disease. Lymphomas that start in the brain are called primary CNS lymphomas and are rare. People who have a weak immune system are more at risk of getting this type of tumour.

Acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuromas are benign tumours that start in the nerve that controls our hearing and balance, called the acoustic nerve. This nerve is covered by cells called schwann cells so this tumour is also known as a schwannoma. People with a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) have a higher risk of developing this type of tumour.


This is a rare tumour that develops from the cells lining the blood vessels in the brain. Haemangioblastomas are benign and grow slowly.

Pituitary tumours

Spinal tumours

Different tumours including astrocytomas, meningiomas, spinal schwannomas, ependymomas and haemangioblastomas may start in the spinal cord. They are usually benign.

Pineal tumours

The pineal gland is just below the area where the two cerebral hemispheres join together. Tumours in this part of the brain are rare and can contain different types of cells. They can be slow- or fast-growing. The most common pineal gland tumours are called germinomas. Others types include teratomas, pineocytomas and pineoblastomas.


Medulloblastomas are rare in adults but are one of the most common malignant brain tumours in children. This tumour develops from cells that are left over from the earliest stages of development. It is a type of primitive neuroectodermal tumour (PNET).

Back to Understanding brain tumours

Primary brain tumours

Primary brain tumours may be benign or malignant. There are several types of brain tumours.

How brain tumours are treated

Treatments for brain tumours include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and also drugs to treat symptoms. You may have a combination of treatments.

Secondary brain tumours

Secondary brain tumours happen when cancer cells spread to the brain from a cancer in another part of the body.