Brain Cancer Health Center

When most normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn't need them, and old or damaged cells don't die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Primary brain tumors can be benign or malignant:

Benign brain tumors do not contain cancer cells:

  • Usually, benign tumors can be removed, and they seldom grow back.
  • Benign brain tumors usually have an obvious border or edge. Cells from benign tumors rarely invade tissues around them. They don't spread to other parts of the body

Malignant brain tumors (also called brain cancer) contain cancer cells:

  • Malignant brain tumors are generally more serious and often are a threat to life.
  • They are likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the nearby healthy brain tissue.
  • Cancer cells may break away from malignant brain tumors and spread to other parts of the brain or to the spinal cord. They rarely spread to other parts of the body.

There are many types of primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors are named according to the type of cells or the part of the brain in which they begin. For example, most primary brain tumors begin in glial cells. This type of tumor is called a glioma.

Among adults, the most common types are:

  • Astrocytoma: The tumor arises from star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes. It can be any grade. In adults, an astrocytoma most often arises in the cerebrum.
  • Meningioma: The tumor arises in the meninges. It can be grade I, II, or III. It's usually benign (grade I) and grows slowly.
  • Oligodendroglioma: The tumor arises from cells that make the fatty substance that covers and protects nerves. It usually occurs in the cerebrum. It's most common in middle-aged adults. It can be grade II or III.
Review Date: 
March 22, 2012
Last Updated:
June 30, 2013