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What Are Brain Tumors?

A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain.  Physicians refer to a tumor based on where the tumor cells originated and whether they are most aggressive (malignant) or least aggressive (benign).  Some tumor types are assigned a grade, ranging from Grade I (least malignant, grows more slowly) to Grade IV (most malignant, grows rapidly), which signifies the rate of growth.  Physicians use the classification and grade of an individual tumor to help predict its likely behavior.

  • Benign – The least aggressive type of brain tumor.  They originate from cells within or surrounding the brain, do not contain cancer cells, grow slowly, and typically have clear borders that do not spread into other tissue.
  • Malignant – Brain tumors that contain cancer cells and often do not have clear borders.  They are considered to be life-threatening because they grow rapidly and invade surrounding brain tissue.
  • Primary – Brain tumors that start in cells of the brain.  They may spread to other parts of the brain or the spine, but rarely to other organs.
  • Metastatic – Sometimes referred to as secondary brain tumors.  They begin in another part of the body and then spread to the brain. These tumors are more common than primary brain tumors and are named by the location in which they begin.


There are over 120 different types of brain tumors, many with their own multitude of subtypes.  Some brain tumors, such as a glioblastoma multiforme, are malignant and may be fast-growing.  Other types of brain tumors, such as a meningioma, may be slow-growing and benign.

Some common types of brain tumors are:

  • Acoustic Neuroma
  • Anaplastic Astrocytoma
  • Brain Metastases
  • Chordoma
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Gangliocytoma
  • Germinoma
  • Glioblastoma Multiforme
  • Glioma
  • Glomus Tumors
  • Hemangioblastoma
  • Meningioma
  • Neurocytoma
  • Neurofibroma
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Oligodendroglioma
  • Pituitary Adenoma
  • Schwannoma
  • Skull Base Tumors
  • Vestibular Schwannoma


Brain tumor symptoms can vary according to tumor type and location.  Most common symptoms include:

  • Recurrent headaches
  • Issues with vision
  • Seizures
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty speaking or comprehending

Because these symptoms may overlap with those of other conditions, it is important to get the correct diagnosis to find the right treatment.  Make an appointment with your primary care physician or neurologist if you are experiencing persistent signs and symptoms that concern you.

If a brain tumor is suspected, your physician may recommend a series of tests and procedures starting with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  Once an MRI shows a tumor in the brain, additional tests will be done to learn more about the tumor, including sometimes the type or grade, of a brain tumor.  After diagnostic testing is done, our board-certified radiation oncologists will work with you and your physician to plan your personalized treatment plan or provide a second opinion from the results of these tests.

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