Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Brain tumors (Adult)

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the brain. The tumor can either originate in the brain itself, or come from another part of the body and travel to the brain (metastasize). Brain tumors may be classified as either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), depending on their behavior.

A benign tumor does not contain cancer cells and usually, once removed, does not recur. Most benign brain tumors have clear borders, meaning they do not invade surrounding tissue. These tumors can, however, cause symptoms similar to cancerous tumors because of their size and location in the brain.

Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors are usually fast growing and invade surrounding tissue. Malignant brain tumors very rarely spread to other areas of the body, but may recur after treatment. Sometimes, brain tumors that are not cancer are called malignant because of their size and location, and the damage they can do to vital functions of the brain.

Metastatic brain tumors are tumors that begin to grow in another part of the body, then spread to the brain through the bloodstream. Common types of cancer that can travel to the brain include lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and colon cancer. All of these cancers are considered malignant once they have spread to the brain.

Facts about brain tumors

Consider the following facts about brain tumors from the American Brain Tumor Association:

  • More than 196,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with a new brain tumor each year.
  • Seventy-five percent of those diagnosed with a brain tumor are living with benign tumors; the remaining are considered malignant tumors.
  • Recent statistics show that the survival rate for those diagnosed with a malignant tumor is 32 percent.