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Survival Outcomes for Brain Tumor

Last Updated: September 25, 2023

Receiving a diagnosis of a brain tumor can be difficult and stressful. You may even wonder “how long do I have left?” and want to know if all brain tumors fatal. First, not all brain tumors are fatal. Every case is unique, and treatment options and outcomes can vary depending on factors like the type of tumor, its location, size, and grade (tumor aggressiveness), as well as your age and overall health. Here, we will provide you with information that can put your brain tumor diagnosis and prognosis into perspective, as well as offer treatments and resources available to help improve outcomes and quality of life.

Overview of Survival Rates

Brain tumor survival rates can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of brain tumor and its growth rate (aggressiveness), its size and location, the age and overall health of the person, and the treatment options available. Here are some general statistics and considerations:

  • The overall 5-year survival rate, or the percentage of patients alive 5 years after diagnosis, for all types of primary brain tumors (tumors that originate in the brain) is around 36%. However, that figure is higher — 70% — in patients 40 years and younger.

  • Survival rates can vary widely depending on the specific type of brain tumor. For example, the 5-year survival rate for meningiomas (usually benign tumors that grow on the meninges, the protective layers surrounding the brain) is around 85%, whereas the 5-year survival rate for glioblastomas (a type of aggressive brain tumor) is around 5%. Secondary brain tumors originate elsewhere in the body and spread to the brain. They are also called metastatic brain tumors and can be more difficult to treat.

  • Survival rates are just general statistics and can't predict how long any one person will live. Some people with brain tumors may live longer than expected, while others may have a shorter survival time.

  • Early detection and prompt treatment, whether it be surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination thereof, can improve quality of life for patients and increase chance of survival.
  • In addition, factors such as overall health and the ability to tolerate treatment can all affect your prognosis.

It's important to talk to your doctors and surgeons about your particular situation and what you can expect in terms of treatment options and survival rates.

Table 1 displays the 5-year survival rate for primary brain tumors by tumor type and age group.

Table 1: 5-year survival rate for primary brain tumors by tumor type and age group.
Types of tumors in adults 20-44 5-year survival rate
Anaplastic astrocytoma 58%
Anaplastic oligodendroglioma 76%
Ependymoma 92%
Glioblastoma 22%
Low-grade (diffuse) astrocytoma 73%
Meningioma 84%
Oligodendroglioma 90%
Types of tumors in adults 45-54  
Anaplastic astrocytoma 29%
Anaplastic oligodendroglioma 67%
Ependymoma 90%
Glioblastoma 9%
Low-grade (diffuse) astrocytoma 46%
Meningioma 79%
Oligodendroglioma 82%
Types of tumors in adults 55-64  
Anaplastic astrocytoma 15%
Anaplastic oligodendroglioma 45%
Ependymoma 87%
Glioblastoma 6%
Low-grade (diffuse) astrocytoma 26%
Meningioma 74%
Oligodendroglioma 69%

Brain Tumor Treatment Success Rates

As with survival rates, the success of treatment also depends on the type of tumor, its size, and location. For benign, or non-cancerous, brain tumors, complete removal of the tumor may provide a cure. However, for aggressive, malignant brain tumors that have spread, removing the tumor may only improve symptoms, extend life for a certain period of time, and quality of life.

The definition of success also depends on the goal of treatment. For some patients, complete tumor removal is a priority, but for others the goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and maximize quality of life. These treatment goals help to plan your course of treatment, the types of treatments offered, and the intensity of therapy.

Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, either alone or combination, are the common brain tumor treatments. The success rate for each of these treatments depends on the type of tumor. Some types of brain tumors may be more susceptible to treatment based on genetic makeup, location, size, and growth pattern. For example, schwannomas are usually slow-growing benign tumors that can be successfully treated with surgery. The 5-year survival rate for people with schwannomas is around 90%. However, treatment options for glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor that is highly aggressive and difficult to treat, include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Despite efforts with this combination of treatments, the 5-year survival rate for glioblastoma patients is much lower, 5%.

Although malignant and cancerous brain tumors are associated with poor prognoses, long-term survivors have been reported. Some patients have survived 5, 10, and even 20 years after their initial diagnosis. While it is unclear what unique factors allowed survival in these cases, their stories bring hope for a possible cure. For specifics on your own outlook after treatment, discuss expectations with your neurosurgeon and care team.

What Can I Do to Improve Survival?

As we’ve outlined, the specific nature of your brain tumor greatly influences treatment options and survival rates. While the type, size, and location of your brain tumor are not things you can change, there are steps you can take to improve your outcome and quality of life.

  • Follow-up care: Regular checkups with your medical team can help monitor the progress of treatment and detect any possible recurrence of the tumor. This may involve periodic imaging studies, blood tests, and other evaluations.
  • Supportive care: In addition to treating the tumor itself, supportive care to manage symptoms, support nutrition, and improve overall quality of life is also important. This may include working with a nutritionist, physical therapist, or other specialists.
  • Self-care: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest, and engaging in regular exercise and activities that bring you joy, helps support the recovery process.
  • Emotional and psychological support: Receiving a diagnosis of a brain tumor can be a stressful and emotional experience, and it's important to seek support from family, friends, and healthcare professionals. Support groups, counseling, and other resources are available to help you cope with the challenges of living with a brain tumor.
  • Clinical trials: There may be clinical trials available for people with brain tumors difficult to treat, like glioblastoma, to test new treatments or approaches. Your doctor can help you understand if you are eligible for any clinical trials and what the potential benefits and risks may be.

While every case is unique, it's important to understand your prognosis and what you can expect in terms of treatment outcomes and long-term survival. Even if a brain tumor is not curable, palliative care, which focuses on providing relief from symptoms and improving quality of life for people with serious illnesses, can be an important part of care for people with brain tumors.

If you are faced with an incurable brain tumor, it's important to consider end-of-life planning, including your preferences for medical care and other aspects of your care. This may include creating an advance directive, naming a healthcare proxy, and making arrangements for your end-of-life care. If you’re faced with a difficult, terminal diagnosis, focus on making the most of the time you have left: spend time with loved ones, pursue activities that you love, and focus on what is most important to you.

Maximizing quality of life and survival when facing any brain tumor requires a holistic approach that considers physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Work closely with your healthcare team and loved ones to develop a comprehensive care plan that considers your goals and preferences for care.

Key Takeaways

  • Brain tumor survival depends on the type of brain tumor, its size and location, your age and overall health, and the treatment options available.
  • Higher survival rates are generally found in younger patients and those with slow-growing, benign brain tumors.
  • Survival rates are just general statistics and can't predict how long any one person will live.
  • Early detection and prompt treatment, whether it be surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination thereof, can improve quality of life for patients and increase chance of survival.
  • To improve your quality of life and outcome, follow your medical treatment plan, seek supportive care when needed, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.