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Understanding brain tumors and finding helpful resources are important steps in forming an effective plan of action.

BTN's Navigators assist patients with all types of primary brain tumors.

In your quest for brain tumor treatment information, you probably have a lot of questions. It is important to learn as much as you can about your particular brain tumor type and its location in your brain. This will enable you to participate more fully in important conversations with your medical providers regarding treatment decisions. The websites of Comprehensive Cancer Centers can be good starting points.  Even better, pick up the phone and talk to one of BTN’s Navigators at 904.395.5220 or toll free at 1.844.286.6110. BTN will tailor the services it provides to your diagnosis, medical history and personal needs.

What is a brain tumor?

By definition, a brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the brain. Tumors are either cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Primary brain tumors are a rare form of cancer; Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States estimates an incidence rate of 23,830 new cases of malignant primary brain tumors in the USA in 2018.

WHAT CAUSES BRAIN TUMORS?

At this time, the exact causes of brain tumors aren't known. Brain tumors can form in different locations of the brain and develop from a variety of cell types.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides the following OVERVIEW OF the types of primary tumors which can form in the brain or spinal cord:

Astrocytic Tumors

An astrocytic tumor begins in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell. Glial cells sometimes form tumors called gliomas. Astrocytic tumors include the following:

  • Brain stem glioma (usually high grade): A brain stem glioma forms in the brain stem, which is the part of the brain connected to the spinal cord. It is often a high-grade tumor, which spreads widely through the brain stem and is hard to cure. Brain stem gliomas are rare in adults.
  • Pineal astrocytic tumor (any grade): A pineal astrocytic tumor forms in tissue around the pineal gland and may be any grade. The pineal gland is a tiny organ in the brain that makes melatonin, a hormone that helps control the sleeping and waking cycle.
  • Pilocytic astrocytoma (grade I): A pilocyticastrocytoma grows slowly in the brain or spinal cord. It may be in the form of a cyst and rarely spreads into nearby tissues. Pilocytic astrocytomas can often be cured.
  • Diffuse astrocytoma (grade II): A diffuse astrocytoma grows slowly, but often spreads into nearby tissues. The tumor cells look something like normal cells. In some cases, a diffuse astrocytoma can be cured. It is also called a low-grade diffuse astrocytoma.
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma (grade III): An anaplastic astrocytoma grows quickly and spreads into nearby tissues. The tumor cells look different from normal cells. This type of tumor usually cannot be cured. An anaplastic astrocytoma is also called a malignant astrocytoma or high-grade astrocytoma.
  • Glioblastoma (grade IV): A glioblastoma grows and spreads very quickly. The tumor cells look very different from normal cells. This type of tumor usually cannot be cured. It is also called glioblastoma multiforme.

Oligodendroglial Tumors

PLEASE NOTE: This is old terminology; it is only used if no genetic testing has been performed.

An oligodendroglial tumor begins in brain cells called oligodendrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. An oligodendrocyte is a type of glial cell. Oligodendrocytes sometimes form tumors called oligodendrogliomas. Grades of oligodendroglial tumors include the following:

  • Oligodendroglioma (grade II): An oligodendroglioma grows slowly, but often spreads into nearby tissues. The tumor cells look something like normal cells. In some cases, an oligodendroglioma can be cured.
  • Anaplastic oligodendroglioma (grade III): An anaplastic oligodendroglioma grows quickly and spreads into nearby tissues. The tumor cells look different from normal cells. This type of tumor usually cannot be cured.

Mixed Gliomas

PLEASE NOTE: This is old terminology; it is only used if no genetic testing has been performed.

mixed glioma is a brain tumor that has two types of tumor cells in it — oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. This type of mixed tumor is called an oligoastrocytoma.

  • Oligoastrocytoma (grade II): An oligoastrocytoma is a slow-growing tumor. The tumor cells look something like normal cells. In some cases, an oligoastrocytoma can be cured.
  • Anaplastic oligoastrocytoma (grade III): An anaplastic oligoastrocytoma grows quickly and spreads into nearby tissues. The tumor cells look different from normal cells. This type of tumor has a worse prognosis than oligoastrocytoma (grade II).

Ependymal Tumors

An ependymal tumor usually begins in cells that line the fluid -filled spaces in the brain and around the spinal cord. An ependymal tumor may also be called an ependymoma. Grades of ependymomas include the following:

  • Ependymoma (grade I or II): A grade I or II ependymoma grows slowly and has cells that look something like normal cells. There are two types of grade I ependymoma — myxopapillary ependymoma and subependymoma. A grade II ependymoma grows in a ventricle (fluid-filled space in the brain) and its connecting paths or in the spinal cord. In some cases, a grade I or II ependymoma can be cured.
  • Anaplastic ependymoma (grade III): An anaplastic ependymoma grows quickly and spreads into nearby tissues. The tumor cells look different from normal cells. This type of tumor usually has a worse prognosis than a grade I or II ependymoma.

Medulloblastomas

medulloblastoma is a type of embryonal tumor. Medulloblastomas are most common in children or young adults.

Pineal Parenchymal Tumors

A pineal parenchymal tumor forms in parenchymal cells or pineocytes, which are the cells that make up most of the pineal gland. These tumors are different from pineal astrocytic tumors. Grades of pineal parenchymal tumors include the following:

  • Pineocytoma (grade II): A pineocytoma is a slow-growing pineal tumor.
  • Pineoblastoma (grade IV): A pineoblastoma is a rare tumor that is very likely to spread.

Meningeal Tumors

meningeal tumor, also called a meningioma, forms in the meninges (thin layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord). It can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells. Meningiomas are most common in adults. Types of meningeal tumors include the following:

  • Meningioma (grade I): A grade I meningioma is the most common type of meningeal tumor. A grade I meningioma is a slow-growing tumor. It forms most often in the dura mater. A grade I meningioma can be cured if it is completely removed by surgery.
  • Meningioma (grade II and III): This is a rare meningeal tumor. It grows quickly and is likely to spread within the brain and spinal cord. The prognosis is worse than a grade I meningioma because the tumor usually cannot be completely removed by surgery.

hemangiopericytoma is not a meningeal tumor but is treated like a grade II or III meningioma. A hemangiopericytoma usually forms in the dura mater. The prognosis is worse than a grade I meningioma because the tumor usually cannot be completely removed by surgery.

Germ Cell Tumors

germ cell tumor forms in germ cells, which are the cells that develop into sperm in men or ova (eggs) in women. There are different types of germ cell tumors. These include germinomasteratomas, embryonal yolk sac carcinomas, and choriocarcinomas. Germ cell tumors can be either benign or malignant.

Craniopharyngioma (Grade I)

craniopharyngioma is a rare tumor that usually forms in the center of the brain just above the pituitary gland (a pea-sized organ at the bottom of the brain that controls other glands). Craniopharyngiomas can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells.

It is important to have the most current information available and an experienced team to help you navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. If you live in the United States, no matter what type of primary brain tumor you have, BTN will investigate treatment options unique to your diagnosis and personal circumstances.