Brain Tumor - Types, Causes & Symptoms

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To find out more about care and treatment for brain and spinal tumor care at the Cottage Health's Neuroscience Institute (SBNI), or to request an appointment, please call our Nurse Navigator at 1-805-324-9235.

A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in your brain, skull or protective tissue covering the brain. About 1 percent of cancers diagnosed annually in the United States are brain tumors.

Causes of Brain Tumors

You may face a higher risk of brain tumors if:

  • Your family has a history of certain types of brain tumors
  • You’ve been exposed to radiation, for example, through cancer treatment

Researchers are studying other possible causes of brain tumors.

Brain Tumor Symptoms & Diagnosis

See your doctor as soon as possible if you experience brain tumor symptoms, such as:

  • Changes in your thinking or behavior
  • Deep, persistent, recurring headaches
  • Difficulty walking or sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision or other vision problems
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Your physician may request a neurological examination, brain scan and biopsy to help diagnose your condition.

Treating Brain Tumors

If you receive a brain tumor diagnosis, your brain tumor care team may recommend one or more of these treatments:

Types of Brain Tumors

Benign (Noncancerous) Tumors

Benign tumors may cause problems by pressing on your brain or spine, but they grow slowly and respond well to treatment. They are less likely to recur than malignant (cancerous) tumors.

Malignant (Cancerous) Tumors

Malignant tumors grow quickly and can be life threatening. They rarely spread to other organs but invade multiple parts of your brain and central nervous system.

Primary Tumors

Primary tumors originate in your brain and occur in about 17,000 Americans annually. The most common types are gliomas and astrocytic tumors.

Metastatic Tumors

Metastatic, or secondary, tumors spread to the brain from other cancerous sites in your body. About 100,000 Americans get a diagnosis of metastatic brain or spine cancers annually.

Gliomas (Astrocytomas, Ependymomas & Glioblastomes)

About half of primary brain tumors are gliomas. They typically occur in the upper part of the brain but can also grow in other areas, especially near the optic nerve, brain stem and, in children, the cerebellum. Gliomas include:

  • Astrocytomas
    • Glioblastomas


Medulloblastomas are fast-growing, malignant tumors that develop in your cerebellum and may spread to other parts of the brain and, rarely, the body. This type of tumor occurs mostly in children under the age of 10.


Meningiomas originate in the meninges, the protective covering of your brain and spine. These tumors may press on surrounding brain tissue, affecting cranial nerves and blood vessels and potentially causing disabilities. But some people with meningiomas experience no symptoms. If you don’t experience symptoms, your doctor may simply monitor the tumor with regular MRIs.

Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumors, or adenomas, originate in the pituitary gland. This gland is located at the base of your brain and controls most of your hormones. Some pituitary tumors secrete too many hormones, causing symptoms such as impotence, interruption of monthly periods, abnormal body growth or hyperthyroidism. Other adenomas do not secrete hormones, but press on brain tissue.

Skull Base Tumors

Skull base brain tumors originate in the bony structure or tissue surrounding your brain. They include meningiomas, acoustic neuromas, pituitary tumors, schwannomas and other tumors.


Schwannomas are slow-growing, benign tumors originating from the cells that form a protective sheath around the body’s nerve fibers. If these tumors grow around the eighth cranial nerve, they’re called acoustic neuromas. Schwannomas press on the brain as they enlarge, causing problems with hearing, balance and facial movement.

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