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Brain tumours

2-minute read

A brain tumour is a lump of abnormal cells growing in your brain. Your brain controls all the parts of your body and its functions and produces your thoughts. Depending where it is, a tumour in your brain can affect these functions.

What is a brain tumour?

When cells grow abnormally they may form a lump called a tumour. Tumours can be benign or malignant.

A benign tumour grows and stays in one place. It is unlikely to spread to another part of your body.

Benign tumours are not cancerous. But a benign brain tumour may cause damage just by being there and pressing on your brain. This can be life-threatening, or affect other parts of your body, and may need urgent treatment.

A malignant tumour is cancerous. It can spread to other areas of your brain, or your body. It can also be called brain cancer. Some benign tumours can become malignant.

Types of brain tumours

Brain tumours can either be ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’. A primary brain tumour is a tumour that has started in the brain. A secondary brain tumour is a cancer from elsewhere in the body that has spread or ‘metastasised’ to the brain.

There are many types of brain tumours. Together with tumours of the spinal cord, they are collectively called central nervous system (CNS) tumours.

Brain tumours are usually named according to the type of cell they started in. Some common types of primary brain tumours are gliomas (including astrocytomas and glioblastomas), meningiomas and medulloblastomas.

Most types of cancer can spread to the brain, forming a secondary brain tumour. The types of cancer that most commonly spread to the brain include melanoma, bowel, breast, kidney and lung cancers.

Risk factors for brain tumours

It’s not known what causes brain tumours.

Occasionally people develop brain tumours because of genetic factors, or because they’ve been exposed to radiation.

Research is investigating whether certain genes are important risk factors for brain tumours. Read more about brain tumour research at Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.

How common is brain cancer?

Almost half of all brain and spinal cord tumours are malignant.

Each year, about 1,700 people are diagnosed with brain cancer in Australia, including about 130 children. About 1,200 Australians die of it each year.

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Last reviewed: August 2019

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