Brain cancer is a disease of the brain whereby malignant cells multiply abnormally in the brain tissue. These cells grow into a mass of cancerous tissue (also called a tumor) that interferes with different brain functions, including memory, sensation and muscle control, as well as normal body functions. Tumors composed of cancer cells are called malignant tumors, and those composed of noncancerous cells are called benign tumors. Cancer cells that develop from brain tissue are called primary brain tumors, while tumors that spread from other body sites to the brain are termed metastatic or secondary brain tumors. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society statistics suggest that brain cancer occurs infrequently; it is likely to develop in about 22,850 new people per year, with about 15,320 deaths.
Types of Brain Cancers
The most common primary brain tumors are typically named for the brain tissue type (including brain stem cancers) from which they originally developed. These are gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (medulloblastomas). Gliomas have several subtypes, which include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, and choroid plexus papillomas. These names all reflect different types of cells in the normal brain that can become cancerous. When the grades are coupled with the tumor name, it gives doctors a better understanding about the severity of the brain cancer. For example, a grade III (anaplastic) glioma is an aggressive tumor, while an acoustic neuroma is a grade I benign tumor. However, even benign tumors can cause serious problems if they grow big enough to cause increased intracranial pressure or obstruct vascular structures or cerebrospinal fluid flow.
Brain Cancer Grades
Not all brain tumors are alike, even if they arise from the same type of brain tissue. Tumors are assigned a grade, depending on how the cells in the tumor appear microscopically. The grade also provides insight as to the cell's growth rate. NCI lists the following grades from benign to most aggressive:
- Grade I: The tissue is benign. The cells look nearly like normal brain cells, and they grow slowly.
- Grade II: The tissue is malignant. The cells look less like normal cells than do the cells in a grade I tumor.
- Grade III: The malignant tissue has cells that look very different from normal cells. The abnormal cells are actively growing and have a distinctly abnormal appearance (anaplastic).
- Grade IV: The malignant tissue has cells that look most abnormal and grow quickly.
Brain Cancer Symptoms
With only a few early signs, the most common symptoms of brain cancer are:
- Blurry vision
- Changes in alertness, mental capacity, memory, speech, or personality
- Difficulty walking and/or dizziness
Brain cancer shares symptoms with many other disorders, and none of these symptoms alone or in combination can be an indicator that a person has brain cancer. A few brain cancers may produce few or no symptoms at all.
Our team of specialists provide the most up-to-date evaluations using the latest diagnostic and imaging technology.
We work very closely with the departments of Neurosurgery, Interventional Neuroradiology, Neurology and Radiation Oncology, as well as the Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus Center and Skull Base Center to ensure an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment for the best outcome.