Brain conditions

Brain tumours

Illustration of the brain and spinal cord.Brain tumours, also known as intracranial tumours, result from abnormal cells. 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 to 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 leads to a tumour.

A primary brain tumour is one that originates in the brain. A metastatic brain tumour is one that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain.

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

What are benign brain tumours?

Some brain tumours are known as benign or low-grade. This generally means they are not cancerous. Benign or low-grade types 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, treatment such as radiotherapy and surgery can help to control them, depending on their characteristics and where they’re located in the brain.

What are malignant brain tumours?

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

  • astrocytomas
  • glioblastomas
  • oligodendrogliomas

Mixed-grade tumours 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?

Paediatric brain tumours are brain tumours in children, which are different to those in adults. Children also respond to them differently because they are still growing. The types that may affect children include:

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

While many children recover from brain tumours, malignant brain tumours (brain cancer) causes more death in children in Australia than any other disease.

What are the symptoms of adult and paediatric brain tumours?

Symptoms 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 are brain tumours treated?

Treatment requires a team of different healthcare professionals, such as a GP, neurosurgeon, neuro-oncologist, neuro-pathologist, clinical nurse specialist and occupational therapist.

Depending on a person’s brain tumour and its location, doctors may treat it with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery, or a combination of these. Doctors may also prescribe steroids to prevent swelling and anti-seizure medication.


  1. Australian Cancer Council.
  2. Nature, Scitable by Nature Education, Cells Are the Basic Units of Living Organisms.
  3. Victorian Government, Better Health Channel.


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