Brain Conditions

What are adult and paediatric brain tumours?

What are brain tumours?

The human body is continually making cells – the basic building blocks of organisms. Usually, our cells divide and grow to form tissue and organs or replace tissue and organs when they get injured or wear out.

When healthy cells are damaged, they either discontinue or become abnormal. Abnormal cells divide more than they should or live beyond their life span. This results in a tumour.

A brain tumour can originate in the brain – known as a primary brain tumour. It can also begin in another part of the body and spread to the brain – known as a metastatic brain tumour.

There are three main categories of brain tumours: benign, malignant and mixed-grade brain tumours.

What are benign brain tumours?

Some brain tumours are known as benign or low-grade tumours, which generally means they are not cancerous. Benign or low-grade tumours are prone to growing slowly. They are also less likely to spread or they spread slowly. Tumours in this category include:

  • meningiomas
  • neuromas
  • craniopharyngiomas
  • pituitary tumours

Even though benign tumours may not have cancer cells, it is misleading to call them ‘benign’ because they can still be life threatening. However, depending on a benign tumour’s characteristics and where it is located in the brain, treatment such as radiotherapy and surgery can help control it.

What are malignant brain tumours?

Malignant brain tumours are cancerous and may spread quickly through the brain and spinal cord. Cancer is a cell disease and involves cells dividing uncontrollably and damaging surrounding tissue. Malignant brain tumours include gliomas such as:

  • astrocytomas
  • glioblastomas
  • oligodendrogliomas

Other types of tumours are known as mixed-grade tumours. They contain both low-grade and high-grade attributes.

According to Australia’s Cancer Council, the risk of developing brain tumour cancer by 85 years of age is one in 103 in men and one in 161 in women.

What are paediatric brain tumours?

Brain tumours in children are different to those in adults. Children also respond to them differently because they are still growing. Types of brain tumours that may affect children include:

  • ependymomas
  • medullobastomas
  • astrocytomas
  • brainstem gliomas
  • spinal cord tumours

While many children recover after experiencing a brain tumour, malignant brain tumours or brain cancer causes more death in children in Australia than any other disease.

What are symptoms of adult and paediatric brain tumours?

Symptoms that indicate a child or adult may have a brain tumour include:

  • new headaches or headaches that increase in frequency and become more severe
  • nausea and vomiting, which worsen after waking or moving
  • seizures
  • confusion
  • changed mood or personality
  • weakness in parts of the body

How do medical professionals treat brain tumours?

Managing a brain tumour requires a multidisciplinary team made up of different medical specialists such as a GP, a neuro-oncologist, neuro-pathologist, neurosurgeon, clinical nurse specialist and occupational therapist.

After your multidisciplinary team conduct a medical and physical examination, and depending on the particular tumour and its location, they may treat it with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery, or a combination of these. They may also prescribe steroids to prevent swelling and anti-seizure medication.