Types of primary brain tumours

There are about 130 different types of brain tumour. They are generally named after the type of cell they develop from. Most develop from the cells that support the nerve cells of the brain. These are called glial cells. A tumour of the glial cells is called a glioma. Brain tumours can also be named after the area of the brain they are growing in. There is information below about some of the most common types.

Grade – benign or malignant

Brain tumours are put into groups according to how quickly they are likely to grow. A pathologist examines the tumour cells under a microscope. The more abnormal the cells look, the more quickly the tumour is likely to grow and the higher the grade. As a rule of thumb, low grade tumours are regarded as benign and high grade as malignant.

By benign we generally mean that the tumour is relatively slow growing. It is less likely to come back after it is completely removed and is less likely to spread. It may not need treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy after surgery.

By malignant we generally mean that the tumour is relatively fast growing. It is likely to come back after surgery, even if it is completely removed. It may spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord. After surgery it will need radiotherapy or chemotherapy to try and stop it coming back.

Changing from benign to malignant

In some patients, a benign tumour will develop into a malignant tumour but this is not common. It is called malignant transformation or progression to malignancy.

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