Brain cancer


Brain cancer is abnormal growths of cells in the brain. Brain cancer and brain tumor are terms commonly used interchangeably. However, not all brain tumors are cancerous, and cancer is a term reserved for malignant tumors.
Malignant tumors grow and spread aggressively, overpowering healthy cells by taking their space, blood, and nutrients. Malignant brain tumors can grow more rapidly, invading or destroying nearby brain tissue. Unlike cancers elsewhere in the body, primary malignant brain tumors rarely spread from the brain.
Tumors that do not spread aggressively are called benign. Benign brain tumors usually grow slower, are easier to remove surgically (depending on their location), and less likely to recur than malignant brain tumors. Benign brain tumors don't invade the surrounding normal brain or other nearby structures, but they can still place pressure on sensitive areas of the brain. A noncancerous primary brain tumor is life threatening when it compromises vital structures (such as an artery).
Approximately 1 in 16,000 in the United States develops brain cancer or brain tumors. According to the American Cancer Society, brain cancer accounts for approximately 1.4 % of all cancers. It is estimated that there are 13,000 deaths/year as a result of brain tumors, and brain cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in patients younger than age 35.
Primary tumors: Primary tumors occur when one type of cell transforms from its normal characteristics. Once transformed, the cells grow and multiply in abnormal ways. As these abnormal cells grow, they become a mass or tumor. The most common primary brain tumors are gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (medulloblastomas). The term glioma includes astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, and choroid plexus papillomas. Most of these are named after the part of the brain or the type of brain cell from which they arise. Primary brain tumors are less common than secondary brain tumors.
Secondary brain tumors: Secondary or metastatic brain tumors are made of cancerous cells from a tumor elsewhere in the body. The cells spread to the brain from another tumor in a process called metastasis. Metastatic brain cancer indicates advanced disease and has a poorer prognosis. About 25% of tumors elsewhere in the body metastasize to the brain. Secondary brain cancer occurs in 20 - 30% of patients with metastatic disease, and the incidence increases with age. In the United States, about 100,000 cases of secondary brain cancer are diagnosed each year.

Related Terms

Astrocytomas, benign, brain tumor, carcinogen, chemotherapy, choroid plexus papillomas, Cushing's disease, electromagnetic, ependymomas, gliomas, headache, hydrocephalus, hypoglycemia, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), malignant, meninges, meningiomas, metastatic, neoplasia, noncancerous, oligodendrogliomas, pancreatitis, pituitary adenomas, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), primitive neuroectodermal tumors, radiation, rehabilitation, subarachnoid, thyroxine, triiodothyronine, vestibular schwannomas.