Overview of Brain Tumor Survival
Last Updated: March 27, 2023
Surviving with a brain tumor can be a challenging experience that can vary widely depending on the type, location, and stage of your tumor, as well as the treatments received and factors like your age, overall health, and support system.
Some people may experience lasting physical or cognitive effects from the tumor or its treatment, such as weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech or memory, or changes in mood or personality. These effects can be difficult to adjust to and may require ongoing care and support.
However, many people can adapt and find ways to manage the challenges of living with a brain tumor. They may find support through family, friends, or support groups, and develop coping strategies such as mindfulness or exercise to help manage symptoms or maintain emotional well-being. Some may even find a renewed sense of purpose or meaning in life after going through the experience.
It is important to work closely with healthcare providers and have a support system to manage the physical and emotional effects of the tumor and its treatment, and to develop a plan for ongoing care and follow-up. This can help maximize quality of life and provide the support needed to thrive in the face of a difficult diagnosis.
Importance of Medical Treatment
Surviving a brain tumor can be a complex process. Although some small benign (noncancerous) brain tumors may not require treatment and can simply be monitored, most brain tumors will not go away on their own. Therefore, your first and most important step is to work with health professionals to create an individualized treatment plan.
- Get a proper diagnosis: If you suspect you may have a brain tumor, it is crucial to get a proper diagnosis. This will involve a thorough neurological examination, brain imaging (MRI), and possibly a biopsy (when a small sample of tissue or cells is removed for examination) to determine the type and grade (whether fast or slow growing) of the tumor.
- Seek out a specialized treatment center: Brain tumors are complex and treating them requires a multidisciplinary approach. Seek out a specialized treatment center with experienced neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists (medical doctors who specialize in the treatment of brain tumors), and radiation oncologists (medical doctors who specialize in the treatment of tumors using radiation therapy) who can collaborate to create a personalized treatment plan.
- Consider your treatment options: Surgery is often the first line of treatment for brain tumors, and it can be curative in some cases. The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while preserving neurological function. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy to treat brain tumors. High-energy radiation is used to slow down the cancer cells, which helps control the growth and spread of the tumor, relieve symptoms, and improve quality of life. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used and given in 3 ways: (1) after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and prevent the tumor from recurring; (2) before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove; and (3) to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life for patients with advanced brain tumors.
- Manage symptoms and side effects: Brain tumors can cause a range of symptoms and side effects, including headaches, seizures, and cognitive impairment (learning, memory, and speech). It's essential to work with your healthcare team to manage these symptoms and maintain your quality of life.
- Follow up with regular monitoring: After treatment, it's important to follow up with regular monitoring to detect any recurrence or progression of the tumor. Your healthcare team will schedule regular imaging and neurological exams to monitor your condition and adjust your treatment plan as needed.
- Clinical trials: Participation in clinical trials may provide access to new and innovative treatments that are not yet widely available. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, discuss your options with your healthcare provider or a clinical trials specialist. They can help you determine if you are eligible for any ongoing clinical trials and provide you with information about the potential benefits and risks of participating.
Brain Tumor Survival Rate
After receiving a brain tumor diagnosis, it is natural to be concerned about your long-term outlook and the possible impact of the tumor on your life expectancy. It is important to understand that survival rates are statistical averages and do not reflect individual cases. However, you should understand the factors that determine the survival rate of a brain tumor, so we will review them here.
Type of Tumor
Different types of brain tumors have different growth rates and tendencies to spread. Some tumors are more aggressive and more difficult to treat than others. For example, glioblastomas (GBM) are the most aggressive and common type of malignant (cancerous) brain tumor, with an average survival time of 15 months. Astrocytoma is another malignant brain tumor that begins in the star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes. The survival rate of these tumors can vary depending on the grade of the tumor (how fast it’s growing and how likely it is to spread), but overall the 5-year survival rate is around 30% to 50%.
Oligodendroglioma is a type of brain tumor that begins in cells that produce myelin, the fatty covering that protects nerves. The 5-year survival rate for low-grade oligodendroglioma is around 70% to 90%, whereas the rate for high-grade oligodendroglioma is around 30% to 50%. Meningioma is a benign brain tumor that arises from the layers of tissue that cover the brain. The 5-year survival rate for benign meningiomas is around 85% to 95%. Pituitary tumors are also typically benign tumors that develop in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. The 5-year survival rate for most pituitary tumors is around 80% to 90%.
Grade of Tumor
Brain tumors are classified as either low or high grade. Low-grade brain tumors are typically slow growing and less aggressive. They are less likely to invade surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Common types of low-grade brain tumors include meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, and some types of gliomas.
High-grade brain tumors, on the other hand, are typically more aggressive and fast growing. They are more likely to invade surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Common types of high-grade brain tumors include glioblastomas, anaplastic astrocytomas, and medulloblastomas.
Location of Tumor
The location of a brain tumor can affect how easy it is to treat and whether it can be completely removed with surgery. For example, tumors that are located deep within the brain or close to critical structures such as blood vessels or the brainstem can be more challenging to treat or remove. However, tumors located near the surface of the brain or in areas with good surgical access may be more easily removed.
Size of Tumor
Larger tumors can be more difficult to treat and may require more aggressive treatment than smaller tumors. A larger tumor can invade surrounding brain tissue, making it more difficult to remove with surgery, without causing damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. As a brain tumor grows, it can increase the risk of complications during treatment, such as bleeding or swelling in the brain. This can make it more challenging to perform surgery or other treatments safely.
Age and Health of the Patient
In general, younger patients tend to have better survival rates compared with older patients because younger patients often have fewer underlying medical conditions and a stronger immune system, which can help them better tolerate treatment and fight off the tumor. For example, the 5-year survival rate for adults with glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain tumor, is around 5% to 10%. However, studies have shown that younger patients, particularly those under 40 years of age, tend to have higher survival rates than older patients, with some studies reporting 5-year survival rates of up to 30%. Similarly, pediatric brain tumors tend to have higher survival rates than brain tumors in adults.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for children with brain and spinal cord tumors is around 75%, while the 5-year survival rate for adults with the same types of tumors is around 36%. The American Brain Tumor Association lists the 5-year brain tumor survival rate by age for people diagnosed with primary malignant brain tumors as 36.1% for ages 20-44, 30.5% for ages 45-54, 20.5% for ages 55-64, and 12.1% for ages 65 and older.
Remember each person's prognosis and response to treatment are unique and can vary widely based on many factors. If concerned, discuss your treatment options and prognosis with your healthcare team.
Living With a Brain Tumor
Surviving with a brain tumor comes with its challenges, but it is good for you to take an active role in the treatment and recovery process. Maintaining a positive attitude and a sense of hope can be important for your overall well-being and quality of life. Here are some additional ways to help with your recovery and ongoing concerns you may have.
- Supportive care: Supportive care involves managing brain tumor symptoms and side effects of treatment, such as pain, nausea, and fatigue. This is important because physical symptoms like seizures can be unpredictable, making it difficult to work, drive, or perform other activities. Your medical team can prescribe medications or recommend dietary changes and other interventions to help minimize these issues.
- Rehabilitation: Depending on the location and extent of your tumor and the type of treatment, rehabilitation may be necessary to help regain lost function, such as speech or movement.
- Strong support system: Seek support from family, friends, or a support group. They can help you cope with the challenges of living with a brain tumor and provide emotional support. This is especially important for those with advanced brain tumors facing the end-of-life process. Additional support can be provided by healthcare professionals, including chaplains, social workers, and therapists.
- Medical followup: Stay on top of your appointments, take medication as prescribed, and let your healthcare team know about any side effects. Be an active participant in your care, and communicate your needs and concerns with your healthcare team. Consider seeking a second opinion or additional resources if needed.
- Meaning and purpose: Living with a brain tumor can be challenging, but many people find a renewed sense of purpose or meaning in life as a result. Consider ways to find purpose and meaning in your life, such as volunteering or engaging in activities that align with your values and interests.
Work closely with healthcare providers and your support system to manage the physical and emotional effects of the tumor and its treatment, and develop a plan for ongoing care and follow-up. This can help maximize quality of life and provide the support needed to not only survive but also thrive in the face of this difficult diagnosis.
- Your outlook after a brain tumor diagnosis can vary widely depending on the type, location, and grade of your tumor, as well as the treatments received and individual factors like your age, overall health, and support system.
- Brain tumors are complex, and treating them requires a multidisciplinary approach involving experienced neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, and radiation oncologists who collaborate to create your personalized treatment plan.
- Survival rates of brain tumors vary dramatically, from about 5% for the highly aggressive glioblastoma to 90% for the benign, slow-growing meningioma. However, each person's prognosis and response to treatment are unique.
- To help with recovery and ongoing challenges, work closely with healthcare providers and your support system to manage the physical and emotional effects of the tumor and its treatment, and develop a plan for ongoing care and follow-up.