Types of Brain Tumors
Last Updated: May 8, 2023
According to figures compiled by the National Brain Tumor Society, 700,000 Americans live with a primary brain tumor. Primary brain tumors come in different types, each with its own symptoms and required treatments. Moreover, not all brain tumors are the same – some can be benign, while others can be or become cancerous.
Tumors developing in the brain can have a lasting and life-changing impact on a patient’s life and family. If you have been diagnosed with a brain tumor, learning the different types of brain tumors can help you understand what treatment will look like for you.
How Tumors Are Categorized
Before delving into the different brain tumor types, read on to learn more about common terminologies used when discussing brain tumors.
Primary vs. Secondary Brain Tumors
Primary brain tumors are tumors that originate from the brain. In contrast, brain tumors that develop in other parts of the body and then metastasize or spread to the brain are called secondary or metastatic brain tumors.
Benign vs. Malignant Brain Tumors
Benign or noncancerous tumors refer to those that are slow-growing and less invasive, while malignant brain tumors are those that grow quickly and aggressively. The latter often affects healthy brain tissues or spreads to nearby normal tissues.
Glial vs. Non-Glial Brain Tumors
Brain tumors can also be categorized based on whether or not they arise from glial cells or the glue-like cells surrounding and supporting the nerve cells in the brain. Glial brain tumors originate in the glial cells, while non-glial tumors begin in other areas, such as the nerves, the meninges (covering membrane of the brain and spinal cord), or the pituitary gland.
Supratentorial vs. Infratentorial Brain Tumors
The different types of brain tumors in adults and children can also be categorized based on their location within the brain. Brain tumors in adults are likely to be supratentorial, as they often develop above the tentorium, an arched layer serving as a partition between the cerebellum and the upper lobes of the brain.
On the other hand, brain tumors in children typically start below the tentorium and are therefore referred to as infratentorial.
Types of Brain Tumors
What is the most common type of brain tumor? Three types answer this question, and they make up 80% of all brain tumors:
As the name suggests, meningiomas are a type of tumor that begins in the meninges, or the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
They are the most common example of benign brain tumors and typically present as slow-growing tumors. However, some can still cause symptoms by putting pressure on the brain and nearby nerves and blood vessels. Moreover, some can behave as more aggressive tumors and come back after treatment.
Brain tumors that start from glial cells account for 78% of malignant brain tumors but can be relatively slow growing or malignant.
There are several types of glial cells, so there are also different types of glioma, including the following:
- Astrocytoma - This relatively slow growing tumor originates from the glial cells and typically occurs in children and young adults.
- Oligodendroglioma - This rare type of brain tumor develops from the cells that act as insulation for the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
- Glioblastoma (GMB) - This especially aggressive type of brain tumor tends to grow and spread rapidly. It is more prevalent in adults age 50 of years and above, as well as in men more than women.
Pituitary tumors develop in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain that regulates vital body functions. This brain tumor type is rarely malignant, so it does not typically spread to other body parts. However, it can cause the gland to make too few or too many hormones, leading to hormonal imbalances.
Most pituitary tumors do not cause symptoms. As such, they are often discovered during imaging tests performed for other reasons.
Other Brain Tumor Types
There are more types of brain tumors than the three enumerated above. It is impossible to cover all of them in this blog, but here are some other common types of brain tumors in adults and children.
The most common subtype of glioma, astrocytomas develop from glial cells called astrocytes. They are more common in middle-aged men, but astrocytomas that occur in the base of the brain are more prevalent in younger people.
Pineal tumors are tumors growing in the pineal gland. As they occur deep in the brain, they can block the cerebrospinal fluid pathways and ultimately cause obstructive hydrocephalus.
Chordomas are a rare form of bone cancer that forms in the base of the skull. It can appear benign as it is slow-growing but has an unpredictable progression. In some cases, it can behave malignantly as it can come back and even spread to other parts.
Also called vestibular schwannomas, acoustic neuromas are benign tumors usually affecting middle-aged adults. They develop on the nerve connecting the ear to the brain and often cause hearing loss.
Adenomas are considered the most common tumor affecting the pituitary gland. They are prevalent in adults ages 30 to 40 but are benign and slow-growing. Moreover, most adenomas can be treated successfully via surgery.
Hemangioblastomas are slow-growing tumors occurring in the cerebellum. They are typically large and are prevalent in adults ages 40 to 60. They are also more common in men than women.
Lymphomas are a type of tumor that develops in the lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune system. It can occur as a primary or secondary tumor and is often treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
Types of Brain Tumors in Adults
Metastatic brain tumors that have spread from other sources are the most common type of brain tumor in adults. However, people in this age group can also be diagnosed with primary brain tumors.
Meningioma is the most common primary brain tumor affecting adults. But since this often develops near the brain’s surface, the tumor is typically easy to remove with surgery. Glioblastoma is another common primary brain tumor occurring in older adults. However, it is often associated with a less favorable outcome because of its aggressiveness.
Diagnosing Brain Tumors
Brain tumors are typically diagnosed and located with the following:
- A neurological exam
- Imaging tests (e.g., CT scan, MRI, and a PET scan of the brain)
- Brain biopsy (if it can be done safely)
Your physicians and surgeons use the information from these diagnostic tests to understand the tumor’s chemical profile, plan its resection, or detect recurring tumors. If a biopsy cannot be performed safely, doctors will diagnose the brain tumor and prepare your treatment plan based on other test results.
Brain Tumor Treatment
A brain tumor can be a frightening diagnosis, as it often entails undergoing life-changing treatment plans. The most common option for brain tumor treatment is surgery. Common surgical approaches to brain tumor removal include craniotomy, neuroendoscopy, and laser ablation.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also be used to shrink tumors, slow down growth, or prevent a recurrence. Some radiation treatments for brain tumors are external beam radiation therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery.
Treating a brain tumor can profoundly change your life, so it’s crucial to partner with a trustworthy medical team for your care. It’s also a good idea to seek a second opinion from an expert to ensure you’re on the right path toward recovery.
Overcome Your Health Crisis With a Second Opinion From Dr. Cohen
Getting a second opinion makes sense when fighting a health crisis like a brain tumor. Seeking advice from a knowledgeable and experienced neurosurgeon can confirm your diagnosis and treatment plan or introduce you to other options you can explore.
If you need help making tough choices, please feel free to reach out to Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol. With his experience performing thousands of complex brain surgeries and transforming his patients’ lives, he has the expertise and empathy to offer a second opinion to advance your care.
Let Dr. Cohen empower you to make the best possible decision for your or a loved one’s care. Request a second opinion today.