What is Brain Cancer?

Brain and spine tumors, also called central nervous system (CNS) tumors, are rare and consist of over 130 different types, including lesions and cysts. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 25,000 people are diagnosed with brain and spine tumors in the U.S. each year. In many cases, brain tumors are non-cancerous. In observance of Brain Cancer Awareness Month and Brain Tumor Awareness Month this May, we’re honoring brain cancer survivors, those living with brain tumors, and the advancements in cancer research to treat these tumors. 

A brain tumor is an abnormal mass caused by cell overgrowth that can be cancerous or benign. Brain tumors are classified into two main groups: primary and metastatic, also referred to as secondary. Primary brain tumors form in the brain and are typically slow-growing. Metastatic brain tumors are more common and start somewhere else in the body and then spread to the brain.  

Brain Cancer Signs & Symptoms

  • Headaches that become more severe over time
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensory changes, including vision, smell, and hearing
  • Feeling off balance or change in coordination
  • Behavioral or emotional changes
  • Cognitive changes
  • Impaired speech
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue, trouble sleeping, or drowsiness

Screening & Diagnostic Testing

Consult your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms listed, or if something doesn’t feel right. In most cases, the first step will be to undergo a physical exam and complete a medical history. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. Additional testing might include:

  • Biopsy
  • MRI
  • CT Scan
  • PET-CT Scan
  • Cerebral arteriogram or cerebral angiogram
  • Spinal tap
  • Myelogram
  • Molecular testing
  • Assessment tests (neurological, vision, hearing, neurocognitive)
  • EEG (Electroencephalography)

Treatment Options

Treatment options and recommendations are based on several factors, including:

  • The size, type, and grade of the tumor
  • The location of the tumor
  • If the tumor is putting pressure on vital parts of the brain
  • If the tumor has spread to other parts of the body or central nervous system
  • Side effects that might be experienced 
  • The patient’s preferences


NIH: National Cancer Institute: 2024 Brain Tumor Awareness Month Guide

Cancer.Net: Brain Tumor: Types of Treatment


More Articles