Brain Tumor, Adult

*This section discusses primary brain tumors only. Cancer that spreads to the brain from another part of the body is different from a primary brain tumor.


Primary brain tumors can be benign or malignant:


Brain tumors do not contain cancer cells:

These tumors usually have a defined border or edge. Cells from benign brain tumors are normally non-invasive, rarely ever invading the tissues around them. Also, they don’t spread throughout the body. However, there are sensitive areas of the brain where if a benign tumor is pressing on it, serious health problems may occur. Unlike benign tumors in most other parts of the body, benign brain tumors are sometimes life threatening. Benign brain tumors may become malignant.

Malignant brain tumors (also called brain cancer) contain cancer cells: Malignant brain tumors are generally more serious and often are a threat to life. They are likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the nearby healthy brain tissue. Cancer cells may break away from malignant brain tumors and spread to other parts of the brain or to the spinal cord. They rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Brain Tumor Grades:

Doctors group brain tumors by grade. The grade of a tumor refers to the way the cells look under a microscope:

Grade I: The tissue is benign. The cells look nearly like normal brain cells, and they grow slowly.

Grade II: The tissue is malignant. The cells look less like normal cells than do the cells in a Grade I tumor.

Grade III: The malignant tissue has cells that look very different from normal cells. The abnormal cells are actively growing (anaplastic).

Grade IV: The malignant tissue has cells that look most abnormal and tend to grow quickly.

Cells from low-grade tumors (grades I and II) look more normal and generally grow more slowly than cells from high-grade tumors (grades III and IV). Over time, a low-grade tumor may become a high-grade tumor. However, the change to a high-grade tumor happens more often among adults than children.

Brain Tumor Treatment

People with brain tumors have several treatment options. The options are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Many people get a combination of treatments. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the following:

  • The type and grade of brain tumor
  • Its location in the brain
  • Its size
  • Your age and general health


For some types of brain cancer, the doctor also needs to know whether cancer cells were found in the cerebrospinal fluid. You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods.

Search for clinical trials in Georgia.

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database: . (Accessed July 2016)