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Brain Cancer Basics

About Brain Cancer

Brain tumors happen because of abnormal cell growth. Those that originate in the brain are called primary brain tumors, and those that originate from cancers outside of the brain are called brain metastases.

Primary brain tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Typically, benign brain tumors grow slowly and tend to be less-invasive than malignant brain tumors; however, they can be just as damaging and life-threatening if they cannot be removed and/or press against brain tissue.

The most common brain tumors begin in the brain’s glial cells and are called gliomas. Glial cells support the nerve cells in the brain that conduct electrical impulses. Types of glial cells include oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, ependymal cells, Schwann cells, microglia and satellite cells. Benign or malignant tumors can develop from any of these types of cells.

According to the American Cancer Society, about three out of 10 of all brain tumors – benign and malignant – are gliomas. If considering malignant brain tumors alone, then the number increases to eight out of 10.

Once a tumor has been detected, surgery is typically the first step to either biopsy the tumor and/or remove as much of the tumor as possible without affecting normal brain function.

Surgery, as well as radiation, chemotherapy and other treatment options depend on the type and location of the brain tumor and how much it has grown and spread.

To learn more about brain tumors, please visit the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.