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Brain Cancer - Adult

Brain Cancer - Adult

A brain tumour is an abnormal growth of cells in the brain. If any brain cells grow and multiply abnormally to cause a brain tumour, this is called a primary tumour. If abnormal cells have spread to the brain from a cancerous tumour in another part of the body, this is called a secondary tumour or a metastasis.

Cause & Risk

We have not established clear risk factors for the majority of brain tumours in the way that, for instance, smoking has been established as a clear risk factor for lung cancer.


Due to increased pressure in the skull: The brain is contained within the skull and has a fixed amount of space. If a tumour grows in the brain it will often cause an increase in pressure within the skull, which can cause symptoms to develop. The most common symptoms of raised pressure within the brain are: Headaches A pressure headache is usually dull and constant, and occasionally throbbing. Severe headaches are uncommon. A headache may get worse when you cough, sneeze, bend down or do any hard physical work. All of these tend to raise pressure in the brain. Headaches may be worse at night and may wake you. Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting If the raised pressure makes you sick, it may be worse in the morning than during the day. It may also get worse if you suddenly change position, for example from sitting or lying to standing. Seizures Seizures (fits) are another common symptom of brain tumours. Some people may experience muscle spasms, which could be twitching or jerking of an arm or leg, or sometimes the whole body. Occasionally they can cause moments of unconsciousness. Drowsiness Another possible symptom is drowsiness. This can happen as the pressure in the skull increases. You may find that you sleep more or that you drop off during the day when you wouldn’t normally.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Identifying a brain tumor usually involves a neurological examination, brain scans, and/or an analysis of the brain tissue. Doctors use the diagnostic information to classify the tumor from the least aggressive (benign) to the most aggressive (malignant). In most cases, a brain tumor is named for the cell type of origin or its location in the brain. Identifying the type of tumor helps doctors determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

Further Information

It can be very difficult coping with a diagnosis of a brain tumour both practically and emotionally. At first you are likely to feel very upset, frightened and confused. Or that things are out of your control. It is very important to get the right information about the type of brain tumour you have and how it is best treated. People who are well informed about their illness and treatment are more able to make decisions and cope with what happens. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor and nurses questions if you don't understand something. It isn’t always easy to remember what you want to ask. Or to remember what you have been told and don’t be worried about taking notes when you are given answers to your questions.

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