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 can’t 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.
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 malignant brain tumours in Australia, including about 130 children. About 1,300 Australians die of it each year.
Last reviewed: July 2017