Brain cancer

Brain cancers, also called brain tumours, can be either benign or malignant. They are often named after the type of cell from which they grow.

A benign brain tumour:

  • is not cancer.
  • can grow but it should not spread to other body parts.

A malignant brain tumour:

  • is cancer.
  • can grow quickly and spread.

A benign brain tumour is made up of slow-growing cells. Even though it does not spread to other body parts, it can still cause serious problems. The tumour takes up space in your skull and the skull cannot expand to make room for a growing tumour. The tumour can press on your brain or other important nerves coming from the brain and this can cause serious damage.

A tumour pressing on the brain can affect how the brain works and may raise the pressure inside your skull. This pressure can cause headaches and/or nausea (feeling sick or vomiting). Benign brain tumours can be treated successfully

A malignant brain tumour can be either primary or secondary. A primary brain tumour means it started to grow in the brain whereas a secondary brain tumour means it began in another part of the body and has spread to the brain.

Your first tests for diagnosis

Placing you at the centre of our work, your specialist will determine where your cancer started (what type of cell) and what type of brain tumour it is.

To determine your condition, our experts will work with you and support you through a medical examination and other key tests such as:

  • Imaging (scans and x-rays)
  • Biopsy (if needed)
  • Pathology (blood tests).


To treat brain tumours properly, it is important we have a correct diagnosis. To do this we will need to run different scans to find the presence of a brain tumour. The scans will also show where it is and how big it is and this will help your Peter Mac doctor put the best treatment plan in place for you

Some key imaging or scan tests include:

  • Computerised Tomography (CT) scans (3-D x-ray pictures giving more information than a normal x-ray)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans (using magnet machinery to take pictures of inside body parts)
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans (using a radioactive drug to show a picture of how your tissues and organs are working).

Following the scans, we may perform a biopsy. A biopsy is vital to diagnose the right condition. This test can provide your Peter Mac doctor with information about the type of cell that is growing into a tumour.

A biopsy is:

  • the removal of a small sample of cells from and/or around the tumour. This sample is sent to our laboraties for testing. Testing the sample will show if cancer cells are present as well as help to pinpoint the exact type of brain tumour.

Focusing on you (treatment)

Your Peter Mac doctor will discuss and develop the best treatment plan for you. Treatments will depend on your diagnosis.

Brain tumour treatment will depend on:

  • whether it is benign or malignant
  • the cell type of the tumour
  • its size, growth and location in the brain
  • your general health and wellbeing
  • your needs.

Our team of experts from surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and molecular medicine will come together and develop the best approach to treat your brain tumour.

Treatments can vary and may include:

  • surgery for tumours that can be reach, to remove all or part of it
  • chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs) to help shrink the cancer cells before surgery or to destroy the cancer cells after surgery.
  • radiation therapy (strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy to kill and/or slow cancer cells) either before or after surgery or both.
  • molecular medicine to detect and identify the gene make-up of the tumour to apply the best gene therapies available
  • clinical trials or
  • a combination of these.

Enhancing your care (after treatment)

After effective treatment, patients will continue to see their specialist every three months. These visits are used to monitor your health and may include tests such as pathology, imaging (scans and x-rays) and biopsies. Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you.

Living with cancer

We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. Your lifestyle and that of your loved one's will be disrupted and changed. During this time, it is common to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy.

There are many expert groups available to support you through this time, including:


At Peter Mac, we focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our brain tumour experts will help support and guide you to the best information and managed care.

Our specialist nurses can refer you to our:

  • allied health services
  • patient information resources
  • support groups.