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Types of Brain Cancer

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 5/19/2011

What are the different types of brain cancer? Here we will detail and discuss the different brain tumor types associated with brain cancer and how they may affect the patient.

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    Brain A brain tumor is best defined as an abnormal growth of tissue. The tumor may begin in the brain or metastasize to it. They are either malignant or benign. There are several different types of brain cancer, determined by the type of tumor.

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    Astrocytomas

    This is a glial cell tumor derived from astrocytes. This is the most common primary adult brain tumor and the most common childhood brain tumor. When high-grade, they are the most malignant. In children, symptoms usually include headache, increased intracranial pressure, vomiting, coordination and walking problems and double vision. Adults may experience seizures, increased intracranial pressure and changes in behavior.

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    Gliomas

    This is the most common primary brain tumor. It begins from glial cells. There are several different gliomas. The types include astrocytomas, brain stem gliomas, ependymomas, oligodendrogliomas and optic nerve gliomas.

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    Brain Stem Gliomas

    These tumors are located on the brain stem and in most cases, they cannot be removed due to how delicate the brain stem is. They are almost always seen in children. Intracranial pressure usually is not present. Symptoms that do tend to occur include double vision, coordination and walking difficulty and difficulty moving one side of the body or face.

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    Optic Nerve Gliomas

    This type of tumor is found on or around the optic nerve, which is the main nerve of the eye. Those with a condition known as neurofibromatosis are frequently affected. Hormone problems and loss of vision are common. Treatment tends to be difficult due to the sensitivity of surrounding structures.

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    Ependymomas

    This type of glial cell tumor usually develops in the spinal cord or lining of the ventricles. It often causes increased intracranial pressure by blocking CSF flow. Children under 10 are most often affected. They tend to grow slow, but may also recur after treatment.

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    Oligodendrogliomas

    This tumor us usually found in the cerebrum. Patients commonly experience seizures. Patients may also experience weakness, headache, sleepiness or changes in behavior. This tumor is most often seen in those in their 40s and 50s. These tend to have a better prognosis than the majority of other gliomas, but can be more malignant over time.

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    Metastatic Tumors

    This is the most common type of brain cancer in adults. They spread to the brain after starting in another part of the body. The spread through the bloodstream. They usually spread to the cerebellum. Breast, colon and lung cancer often spread. Certain skin cancers do as well. This type of tumor tends to be rather aggressive.

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    Schwannomas

    This is a benign tumor and is similar to a meningioma. They are most often found on the nerves responsible for controlling balance and hearing. They often present with hearing loss. Some patients may also have balance loss. Unilateral facial weakness is also possible.

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    Meningiomas

    This is a benign tumor that comes from the dura and accounts for about 25 percent of brain tumors. They grow slowly and are most often seen in those in their 40s and 50s. Certain types can be malignant and they can recur after surgery.

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    Pituitary Tumors

    The pituitary is a gland at the base of the brain. It plays a major role in controlling other glands in the body. Tumors affecting this gland can have a significant impact on the body, such as impacting thyroid functioning, milk production from the breasts, issues regulating the body's fluid balance, impotence and irregular menstrual periods. Some patients have decreased vision. These tumors are often benign and some can be treated with medication.

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    Medulloblastomas

    These are located close to the cerebellum midline. They often block CSF drainage and grow rapidly, causing problems with increased intracranial pressure. They can spread to the spinal cord and other parts of the central nervous system. It is typically necessary to treat these aggressively with a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

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    Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumors

    This type of tumor is most often found near the cerebellum, but can occur anywhere in the brain. Symptoms will depend on location, but intracranial pressure and associated symptoms are common. They are often malignant and they grow rapidly. On occasion, they will spread throughout the spinal cord or brain.

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    Pineal Region Tumors

    A variety of tumors can grow near the pineal gland. This gland is responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. Gliomas are common here, as are germ cell tumors. Benign tumors are also seen. Biopsy is typically necessary to determine the tumor type. Tumors near this gland tend to cause intracranial pressure and associated symptoms, such as headache.

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    Craniopharyngioma

    This is a benign tumor at the base of the brain. Those older than 16 are most often affected. Vision problems and headaches are the most common symptoms, but hormonal imbalances, including short stature and poor growth are also common. Increased intracranial pressure are also sometimes seen.

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    Resources

    National Brain Tumor Society. (2011). Tumor Types. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from the National Brain Tumor Society: http://www.braintumor.org/patients-family-friends/about-brain-tumors/tumor-types/

    The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. (2011). Brain Cancer. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: http://www.mdanderson.org/patient-and-cancer-information/cancer-information/cancer-types/brain-cancer/index.html

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    Image Credits

    Brain: sxc.hu - artM