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Sixty-six percent of people under the age of 20 will still be living five years after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
*Source: National Institutes of Health

Brain Tumors Overview

WellStar Health System provides superior care for brain tumors, offering a comprehensive spectrum of top-notch physicians, treatment options and diagnostic tools. In addition WellStar offers  innovative advances in the fight against brain tumors, including:

  • Advanced oncologists who specialize in brain tumors and who practice state-of-the-art care in a collegial atmosphere.
  • The entire spectrum of diagnostic and interventional treatments – including  magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), a treatment that tailors  the radiation  to the size and location of the tumor, while sparing healthy tissue.
  • A Tumor Board, a multidisciplinary team that meets routinely to review  complex cases
  • Collaboration with academic brain tumor centers

A tumor is an abnormal growth of cells. Tumors may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Benign brain tumors:

  • Usually can be removed, and seldom return
  • Normally have an obvious edge, and seldom spread
  • May press on sensitive areas of the brain, causing serious  problems
  • Unlike most benign tumors, may be life-threatening
  • May become malignant

Malignant brain tumors (brain cancer):

  • Are usually life-threatening
  • Are likely to grow rapidly, crowding or invading nearby brain tissue
  • May spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord, but are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body.

Primary brain tumors begin in the brain; secondary, or metastatic brain tumors begin elsewhere and spread to the brain. According to estimates by the American Basin Tumor Association, in 2010 about 63,000 new cases of primary brain tumors were diagnosed, of which about 39,000 were benign and 24,000 malignant. Although statistics on secondary brain tumors are not available, it is estimated that 150,000 people per year develop symptoms of secondary brain tumors.

Brain tumors are grouped by grade, depending how their cells look under a microscope.

  • Grade I is a benign tumor; the cells look almost normal and grow slowly.>
  • Grade II is malignant, and its cells look less normal than those of a Grade I tumor. They can recur at a higher grade.
  • Grade III  has malignant cells that look very different from normal cells, and are growing actively, infiltrating adjacent brain tissue. They often recur at a higher grade.
  • Grade IV look most abnormal and usually grow very quickly, forming new blood vessels to maintain blood growth.

Primary brain tumors are classified the type of cells or the part of the brain where they began.

Among adults, the most common types of primary brain tumors are:

  • Astrocytoma arises in star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes, usually in the cerebrum; glial cells provide structure, protection, nutrition, insulation, and maintenance to neurons. It may be of any grade
  • Meningioma begins in the meninges, the membranes that protect the brain. It is usually grade I, but may be grade II or III.
  • Oligodendroglioma starts in the cells of the fatty substance that covers and protects nerves. It may be grade II or III

The most common primary brain tumors in children are:

  • Medulloblastoma usually arises in the cerebellum, and is grade IV.
  • Astrocytoma in children may occur anywhere in the brain or spinal canal, and is grade I or II.
  • Ependymoma begins in the cells that line the central canal of the spinal cord. I may be grade I, II, or III.
  • Brain stem glioma occurs in the lowest part of the brain, and may be of any grade. These are diagnosed through radiation and are usually too dangerous to biopsy.

Secondary brain tumors most often originate as lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, kidney cancer, or colon cancer.


    Symptoms of a brain tumor include:

    • New headaches, a change in the pattern of headaches, or headaches that gradually more frequent and severe, especially in the morning
    • Unexplained nausea or vomiting
    • Vision problems liked blurriness, double vision, or loss of peripheral vision
    • Gradual loss of feeling or movement, or tingling, in an arm or a leg
    • Loss of balance
    • Speech problems
    • Confusion, inability to concentrate, memory problems
    • Personality or behavior changes
    • Seizures, especially if there is no history of seizures
    • Hearing problems

    Risk Factors

    Researchers are unable to explain the causes of the genetic mutations that lead to most primary brain tumors, there are a few risk factors, including:

    • High-dosage ionizing radiation, like radiation therapy aimed at the head, or nuclear weapons, can lead to a brain tumor.
    • White people are at higher risk than people in other races, although meningioma occurs more often in blacks.
    • General risk of a brain tumor increases with age, although certain types almost always occur in children.
    • People in certain industries have an elevated risk, possibly because of chemical exposure.
    • About 5% of primary brain tumors can be linked to family history.

    Ongoing research has failed to link non-ionizing radiation, such as that from power lines, radio transmitters (like cell phones), and microwave ovens, to brain tumors.