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Brain Cancer

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Brain cancer is due to the growth of abnormal (tumor) cells in the brain. While benign tumors generally do not invade other tissues and usually have a distinguishable edge, malignant (cancerous) tumors contain fast-growing cells that can spread to surrounding healthy brain tissue. Benign tumors tend to cause symptoms by putting pressure on surrounding structures, while malignant tumors tend to invade and destroy adjacent structures. There are two types of brain cancer: primary, which originates in the brain, and metastatic, cancer that begins elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain.


  • In 2015, an estimated 22,850 new cases of brain and other nervous system cancers are expected to be diagnosed in the United States.
  • During 2015, brain cancer is expected to claim the lives of an estimated 15,320 Americans.
  • In Texas, an estimated 1,716 new brain and other nervous system cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed, and 1,032 Texans are expected to die from the disease in 2015.
  • In children, brain and spinal cord tumors account for approximately 20 percent of childhood cancers, the second most common cancers (behind leukemia).
  • The likelihood an individual will be diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the brain is less than 1 percent.

Risk Factors 

Most brain tumors have no known causes, and known risk factors are few.

  • Radiation: Exposure to radiation therapy to the head increases the risk of developing a brain tumor.
  • Immune System Disorders: Patients with compromised immune systems have a higher chance of developing lymphomas of the brain, including AIDS, Epstein-Barr virus, or having an organ transplant.
  • Family history: A small percentage of brain tumors develop in people with a family history of brain tumors or genetic syndromes.

Symptoms and Signs 

Brain cancer symptoms vary with each individual. People with these symptoms should consult their physician:

  • Unexplained or recurring nausea and vomiting
  • New, recurring, or worsening headaches
  • Changes in speech, vision, or hearing
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Problems with balance
  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Loss of movement or sensation in an extremity
  • Unexplained drowsiness or coma

Tips for Prevention 

Other than reducing exposure of the head to radiation, there are no known ways to prevent primary brain cancer. However, in adults, certain lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight or quitting smoking, are believed to decrease the risk of developing cancers in the body, which could later reach the brain.

Treatment Options 

Treatment for brain cancer is determined by many factors, including tumor type; size and location in the brain; whether it’s newly diagnosed or a recurrence; the tumor’s specific genetic makeup; and your overall health. Brain tumors can be very difficult to treat; therefore, many patients require a team of physicians including a neurosurgeon, neurologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist or neuro-oncologist, and an endocrinologist.

Surgery is the main treatment for brain tumors if located within the membranes covering the brain or in an area where removal would not damage the surrounding areas. Brain tumors that are located in or near sensitive areas can make total removal more risky, or occasionally impossible. Proton therapy is particularly useful in tumors deep in the brain or near sensitive areas due to the accuracy of the proton beam.

Several other treatments may be used such as radiation therapy, radiosurgery, chemotherapy, or targeted drug therapy. Often a combination of treatments is used to provide the best chance of disease control.

Source: American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Society, National Cancer Institute, and Texas Cancer Registry