Research, Scientific Breakthroughs, & Caregiver Tips
What is a Brain Tumor?
In the simplest sense, a brain tumor is a group of cells, sometimes also called an intracranial tumor, in or near the brain that grows abnormally. Often, these cells divide and multiply more quickly than normal cells, and they may live longer than normal cells. The result is an uncontrolled mass of tissue that may interfere with the normal functioning of healthy tissues in the body.
There are many different types of brain tumors–more than 150 by most counts–that behave differently, affect different tissues and likely stem from different causes. Although there are dozens of different kinds of tumors, they are grouped into two broad categories.
Primary Brain Tumors
Primary brain tumors begin their growth in the brain itself or in the tissues immediately surrounding the brain. Primary brain tumors are further classified into two types depending on the types of brain cells that are affected:
- Glial tumors are comprised of the cells, called glial cells, that surround and support neurons in the brain.
- Non-glial tumors occur in parts of the brain not made up of glial cells. These tumors may affect blood vessels, neural tissue, glands, or other structures of the central nervous system.
Finally, primary brain tumors are categorized as either benign or malignant.
- Benign tumors are made up of non-cancerous cells that do not spread to other parts of the body or invade other surrounding tissues. Benign tumors may grow more slowly than malignant tumors, and they usually don’t grow back if they are removed. However, they are not necessarily harmless; their growth may have a harmful effect on surrounding tissues even without cancerous growth patterns.
- Malignant tumors grow uncontrollably and can invade and destroy other tissues. The cancerous cells of malignant tumors may also spread to other parts of the body via the blood or lymphatic system.
Metastatic Brain Tumors
Metastatic brain tumors do not originate in the brain itself, but rather spread from other parts of the body to the brain or central nervous system, often via the patient’s circulatory system. Metastatic brain tumors are, by definition, cancerous and malignant.
Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors, with about 150,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Any type of cancer originating anywhere in the body can spread to the brain, but the most common cancers that eventually affect the brain include breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma (skin cancer).
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