Brain Cancer

There are two types of brain tumour, these are primary or secondary.

  • A primary brain tumour is a tumour that starts in the brain.
  • A secondary brain tumour is a tumour that has spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body.

Brain tumours can be low-grade or high grade.

  • low-grade (not cancer, sometimes called a benign tumour) – these usually grow slowly
  • high-grade (cancer, also called a malignant tumour) – these usually grow faster than low grade tumours

Am I at risk?

Doctors do not usually know the cause of a primary brain tumour, but there are some things that may increase the risk of developing a brain tumour

• Age – brain tumours can develop at any age, but the risk is higher if you are older
• Gender – brain tumours are slightly more common in men than in women
• Previous radiotherapy treatment – people who had head radiotherapy as a child have a slightly higher risk of developing a brain tumour later in life
• Genetic conditions – a small number of inherited genetic conditions are linked to a higher risk of some types of tumours
• A weakened immune system – Due to an HIV infection or long term use of immunosuppressants

For more information on the causes of primary brain tumours follow this link.

Types of Brain Tumour

Types of primary brain tumour
Brain tumours are often named after the cell they develop from, or the part of the brain they start in. There are many different types of brain tumour and the more common ones are noted below:

• Glioma (more than half of all brain tumours are gliomas)
• Meningioma (nearly a quarter (25%) of all brain tumours are meningiomas)
• Acoustic neuroma
• Primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL)
• Haemangioblastoma
• Medulloblastoma
• Pineal region tumour
• Pituitary tumour
• Craniopharyngioma tumour
• Spinal cord tumour

For more information on the different types of brain tumours, please follow this link.

Secondary brain tumours

A secondary tumour occurs when cancer cells break away from the primary tumour and travel through the blood system to another part of the body. When cancer cells spread to another part of the body they are called secondaries or metastases.

Some types of cancer are more likely to spread to the brain. The most likely are cancers of the lung, breast, bowel, kidney (renal) and skin (malignant melanoma).

Symptoms of brain tumours


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.

As a tumour grows, it can press on or grow into nearby areas of the brain. This can cause symptoms because it stops that part of the brain from working normally. Symptoms can also happen because the tumour is increasing the pressure inside the skull.
Common symptoms of brain tumours include:

  • Headaches
  • Feeling sick and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Changes in personality, behaviour or thinking


Secondary brain tumours can cause the same symptoms as primary brain tumours. It’s important to know if a tumour in the brain is a primary or secondary cancer as the two are treated differently. The most common symptoms of secondary brain tumours are:

  • headaches
  • weakness in areas of the body
  • memory problems
  • mood swings and changes in behaviour
  • seizures (fits)
  • feeling or being sick
  • confusion
  • tiredness

Some people with secondary brain tumours have no signs or symptoms and their secondaries are discovered during investigations of their primary tumour.

Sometimes secondaries are found before the primary cancer has been diagnosed. In a small number of cases it may not be possible to find the original cancer. In this situation, the tumour is known as a secondary brain tumour from an unknown primary.

All the symptoms mentioned here can be caused by conditions other than cancer. But it is important to see your GP and get them checked.

For more information on the symptoms of brain tumours, please follow this link.

Patient information

For more information from Macmillan regarding brain cancer, please follow this link.

For more information from Cancer Research UK regarding brain cancer, please follow this link.

diagram labeling the four main parts of the brain