Conditions InDepth: Brain Tumors
A brain tumor occurs when cells grow uncontrollably in the brain. Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells divide uncontrollably, they form a mass of tissue. The mass is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer usually refers to malignant tumors. These can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not spread. But, it can continue to grow and press structures near it, causing symptoms.
Malignant tumors can be fatal if not treated. The ability to cure a cancer depends on patient and tumor-related features. Patient-related features include:
- Overall health
- Willingness to undergo treatment
Tumor-related features include:
- Type of cancer
- Site of the origin of the cancer
- How advanced the disease is when it is detected
- Tumor’s response to therapy
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Brain tumors can be either primary or secondary.
These are tumors which start in the brain or its coverings.
Secondary tumors begin in an organ other than the brain. They travel to the brain, usually through the blood. All secondary tumors are malignant.
Other tumors, such as pituitary adenomas, neuromas, spinal cord tumors, and hydatid cysts, are not covered in this report.
Primary brain tumors are the second most common cancer in children and young adults, second only to leukemia. They are the third most common cancer in people between the ages of 15 and 34, fourth between the ages of 35 to 54, and much less common in older adults, where metastatic tumors are more common.
Ionizing radiation and several hereditary diseases are the only known causes of brain tumors. The cause of the majority of primary brain cancers is unknown. Viruses and environmental factors may play a role. The causes of secondary brain cancers are the factors that caused the cancer at the site of origin.
Last reviewedMay 2014by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.