Brain cancer

Brain cancers are often named after the type of cell from which they grow

Cancer Education
4 min read

Benign versus malignant brain tumours 

Brain cancers, also called brain tumours, can be either benign or malignant. 

Benign brain tumours 

A benign brain tumour: 

  • Is not cancer 

  • Can grow but it should not spread to other body parts 

A benign brain tumour consists 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. This can cause severe 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). We can treat benign brain tumours. 

Malignant brain tumours 

A malignant brain tumour: 

  • Is cancer 

  • Can grow and spread fast

Primary versus secondary malignant brain tumours 

A malignant brain tumour can be either primary or secondary. 

  • A primary brain tumour means it started to grow in the brain

  • A secondary brain tumour means it began in another part of the body and has spread to the brain

The brain cancer patient journey

Your first tests for diagnosis 

We place you at the centre of our work. Your specialist will find out where your cancer started (what type of cell) and what type of brain tumour it is.  

Our experts will find out about your condition. They 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)


It is important we have a correct diagnosis so we can treat brain tumours. To do this, we will need to run different scans to find the presence of a brain tumour. The scans will show where it is and how big it is. This helps our doctors put the best treatment plan in place for you. 

Some key imaging or scan tests include: 

  • Computerised Tomography (CT) scans. These are three-dimensional x-ray pictures giving more information than a normal x-ray  

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. These use magnet machinery to take pictures of inside body parts  

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans. These use 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 the removal of a small sample of cells from and/or around the tumour. We send this sample is laboratories for testing. Testing the sample will show if cancer cells are present. It will also help us to pinpoint the exact type of brain tumour. A biopsy is vital to diagnose the right condition. This test can provide your doctors with information about the type of cell that is growing into a tumour. 

Focusing on your brain cancer treatment 

Your 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 experts in surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and molecular medicine work together. They will 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, which are anti-cancer drugs. This helps shrink the cancer cells before surgery. They can also destroy the cancer cells after surgery 

  • Radiation therapy, which are strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy. We use these to kill and/or slow cancer cells before or after surgery or both 

  • Molecular medicine to detect and find the gene make-up of the tumour. This lets us apply the best gene therapies available 

  • Clinical trials

  • A combination of these

Enhancing your care after treatment 

After effective treatment, you will continue to see your specialist every three months. We use these visits to check your health and may include tests such as  

  • Pathology 

  • Imaging (scans and x-rays)  

  • Biopsies  

Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you. 

Living with brain cancer 

We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. It can disrupt your lifestyle and that of your loved ones. 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: 

Brain cancer support 

We focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our brain tumour experts will help support you. They will also guide you to the best information and managed care. 

Our specialist nurses can refer you to our: 

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