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Brain Cancer: Types, Causes & Diagnosis

Brain cancer is a serious and complex condition that affects thousands of people worldwide. Understanding this disease, its various types, causes, and the diagnostic process is essential for those impacted and their loved ones.


What is Brain Cancer?

Brain cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the brain grow uncontrollably, forming a mass or tumor. These tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant brain tumors are particularly aggressive, invading and destroying surrounding brain tissue. Brain cancers are further classified into primary and secondary (metastatic) tumors. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain, while secondary tumors spread to the brain from other parts of the body.

Types of Brain Cancer

Brain cancer encompasses a wide range of tumor types, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. Here are some of the most common types:

1. Gliomas: Gliomas are the most common type of primary brain tumor, arising from glial cells that support and nourish neurons. There are several subtypes of gliomas, including:

Astrocytomas: These tumors develop from astrocytes and can range from low-grade (slow-growing) to high-grade (fast-growing and aggressive).

Oligodendrogliomas: Originating from oligodendrocytes, these tumors tend to be slower growing but can become more aggressive over time.

Ependymomas: These tumors arise from ependymal cells lining the brain's ventricles and spinal cord.

2. Meningiomas: Meningiomas develop from the meninges, the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. While most meningiomas are benign, they can still cause significant symptoms by pressing on surrounding brain tissue.

3. Medulloblastomas: Medulloblastomas are highly malignant tumors that originate in the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for coordinating movement. They are most commonly diagnosed in children and can spread to other parts of the brain and spinal cord.

4. Schwannomas: Schwannomas, also known as acoustic neuromas, develop from Schwann cells, which produce the protective covering around nerves. These tumors are typically benign and slow-growing, often affecting the vestibulocochlear nerve responsible for hearing and balance.

5. Pituitary Tumors: Pituitary tumors form in the pituitary gland, a small gland at the base of the brain that regulates hormone production. While most pituitary tumors are benign, they can disrupt hormone levels and cause various symptoms.

Causes of Brain Cancer

The exact cause of brain cancer remains unknown, but several risk factors have been identified. These factors can increase the likelihood of developing brain tumors:

1. Genetic Predisposition: Certain genetic conditions, such as neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and von Hippel-Lindau disease, are associated with an increased risk of developing brain tumors. Family history of brain cancer can also raise the risk.

2. Environmental Factors: Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as previous radiation therapy for other cancers, is a known risk factor for brain cancer. However, other environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals, are still being studied for their potential links to brain tumors.

3. Age and Gender: Brain cancer can occur at any age, but certain types are more prevalent in specific age groups. For example, medulloblastomas are more common in children, while glioblastomas are more frequently diagnosed in older adults. Additionally, some brain tumor types have a gender predisposition, with meningiomas being more common in women.

4. Immune System: Disorders Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS and organ transplantation requiring immunosuppressive drugs, can increase the risk of developing brain tumors.

Symptoms of Brain Cancer

Brain cancer symptoms can vary widely depending on the tumor's size, type, and location within the brain. Common symptoms include:

Headaches: Persistent and severe headaches, often worse in the morning or with physical activity.

Seizures: Sudden, uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, leading to convulsions or loss of consciousness.

Cognitive Changes: Difficulty with memory, concentration, or decision-making.

Motor Skills Impairment: Weakness, numbness, or difficulty with coordination and balance.

Sensory Changes: Vision problems, hearing loss, or changes in the sense of smell or taste.

Speech Difficulties: Trouble speaking or understanding language.

Behavioral and Personality Changes: Alterations in mood, behavior, or personality.

Diagnosing Brain Cancer

Accurate diagnosis is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment plan for brain cancer. The diagnostic process typically involves the following steps:

1. Medical History and Physical Examination: The initial step involves taking a detailed medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination. The doctor will assess symptoms, evaluate neurological function, and look for signs of brain abnormalities.

2. Imaging Tests: Imaging studies are essential for visualizing the brain and identifying tumors. Common imaging tests include:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI provides detailed images of the brain, helping to detect and characterize brain tumors.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: CT scans use X-rays to create cross-sectional images of the brain, aiding in tumor detection and evaluation.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan: PET scans assess metabolic activity in brain tissues, helping to distinguish between benign and malignant tumors.

3. Biopsy: A biopsy involves obtaining a tissue sample from the tumor for microscopic examination. This procedure helps determine the tumor's type, grade, and molecular characteristics, guiding treatment decisions.

4. Neurological Tests: Neurological tests assess brain function and identify specific deficits caused by the tumor. These tests may include cognitive assessments, motor skill evaluations, and sensory tests.

5. Molecular and Genetic Testing: Molecular and genetic testing analyze the tumor's genetic makeup and molecular markers. These tests can provide valuable information about the tumor's behavior and potential response to targeted therapies.


Brain cancer is a challenging and multifaceted disease that requires a comprehensive understanding of its types, causes, and diagnostic processes. By staying informed and aware of the latest advancements in brain cancer research and treatment, individuals and their loved ones can better navigate this difficult journey. For the comprehensive brain cancer treatment in India, American Oncology Institute is recognized as the top multi-disciplinary oncology hospital known for its expertise and advanced care.