A primary brain tumour is a tumour that starts in the brain.
The brain manages how we think, feel, learn and move. It also controls other important things in the body, such as breathing and heart rate. The brain is protected by the skull.
We have separate information about tumours that have started somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain. These are called secondary brain tumours or brain metastases.
Brain tumours can also affect children. If you need information about brain tumours in children, you can contact the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group.
Types of brain tumour
There are many different types of brain tumour. They are often named after the cell they develop from or the part of the brain they start in. More than half of primary brain tumours are gliomas.
Brain tumours can be:
- low-grade – not cancer, sometimes called benign tumours
- high-grade – cancer, also called malignant tumours.
Low-grade brain tumours usually grow slowly and may not cause symptoms for a long time. High-grade brain tumours grow faster than low-grade tumours.
We have more information about how brain tumours are graded.
A brain tumour can cause headaches but it is unusual for this to be the only symptom. Other common symptoms include feeling sick and seizures. Symptoms depend on where the tumour is in the brain and how slowly or quickly it grows. They may develop suddenly, or slowly over months or even years.
Other conditions may cause similar symptoms. But if you have any symptoms, it is important to get them checked by your GP.
We have more information about signs and symptoms of brain tumours.
Many people are diagnosed with a brain tumour when they go to hospital after having a seizure (fit) or other sudden symptoms. Other people go to see their GP about symptoms.
If your GP thinks you may have a brain tumour, they may arrange for you to have a brain scan. Or they may refer you directly to a doctor who specialises in brain disorders (neurologist). People with brain tumours are treated in specialist hospitals. You may have to travel further to your nearest one.
At the hospital you will usually have:
- Neurological examination
A neurological examination is a check of your nervous system.
You may also have:
Brain CT scan
A CT scan makes a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the brain. You may have an injection of a dye into a vein in your arm. This is called a contrast. It helps show certain areas of the brain more clearly.
Brain MRI scan
An MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) scan uses magnetism to make a detailed picture of the brain. It can also be used to check your spine. It takes about 30 to 60 minutes and does not use any radiation. Sometimes specialised types of MRI scan are used to look at blood vessels (MR angiography) or chemical activity (MR spectroscopy) in the brain.
A lumbar puncture is when a doctor removes some cells from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to check for tumour cells. Not everyone needs this test. Your doctor will explain if it is likely to be useful.
Further tests you may have include:
- Blood tests
A blood test cannot diagnose a brain tumour. But some types of tumour release certain hormones or chemicals into the blood. If the tumour is affecting your pituitary gland or pineal gland, you may have blood tests to check for this.
Some people may have a chest x-ray to check their lungs and their general health.
Brain tumours and biomarkers
Some types of brain tumour haveare tested for gene changes. This is called testing for biomarkers or testing for molecular markers.
Treatments for brain tumours include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. You may have a combination of treatments. Your treatment depends on:
- the size and position of the tumour
- the type and grade of the tumour
- any biomarkers you have
- the symptoms you have.
If you have a low-grade tumour that is not causing problems, your doctor may suggest delaying treatment until it is needed. This is called active monitoring.
If surgery is possible, the surgeon will remove as much of the tumour as they can. You may have more treatment after surgery.
When surgery is not possible, the main treatment is usually radiotherapy. This could be with or without chemotherapy. Some people may have chemotherapy alone as their main treatment.
Your doctors and nurses will also make sure your symptoms are managed during treatment and afterwards if needed.
We have more information about treatment for brain tumours.
Coping with changes
Help with your recovery
Your healthcare team includes professionals who can help you during and after your treatment. They may be involved in the early stages of your recovery or for a while after your treatment has finished.
We have more information about the professionals that may support you.