Brain Tumours:

This page is intended as a patient/relative information source only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

What Is A Brain Tumour?

A tumour is a medical term for something that has grown in a place or in a way that we would not normally expect. Not all tumours are cancerous; in fact there is a whole spectrum of different things that constitute tumours. Tumours are named according to the type of cells that they are made from.

Brain tumours can be broadly divided into different types. Primary brain tumours are ones that have started in the brain and are made of brain cells, secondary tumours are ones that have come from elsewhere in the body and are made up from other cells (such as breast cancer cells or testicular cancer cells).

Eventually, we hope to have dedicated pages for many different types of tumours. There is already a page for meningioma and one is being built for low grade gliomas.

What Causes Brain Tumours?

Different tumours will tend to occur in different groups of people. Some tumours are seen mainly in children and others are seen more commonly in adults. Some tumours are more common in either men or women and some are seen equally in both sexes. There are some tumours that seem to run in families and some genetic factors have now been identified in certain types of tumour. Smoking has been identified as an extra risk factor for many different types of tumour.

How Is A Brain Tumour Diagnosed?

People with brain tumours can have a wide range of signs and symptoms. Some of the patients that we see with brain tumours are incidental (i.e. they had a scan for something else and at the same time it was noticed that there was a tumour in the head) and don’t cause any symptoms.

Sometimes tumours can affect different parts of the brain and how it works and can cause anything from weakness to speech problems to seizures. Some people with tumours come to hospital with signs of increased pressure in the head, such as sickness, headaches, drowsiness, collapse or even coma.

Brain tumours are commonly diagnosed on a head scan (such as CT or MRI). If a CT scan shows a brain tumour, the neurosurgeons will often (but not always) need to organise an MRI scan to get a more detailed picture of what is going on in the head before planning treatment.

An example of a head CT scan showing a brain tumour (circled), in this case a rare tumour known as a central neurocytoma

How Are Brain Tumours Treated?

There are lots of different treatment options for brain tumours and the treatment recommended will vary on a case-by-case basis. How we manage brain tumours depends on what they are, where they are and if they are growing, as well as how well the patient is and what their wishes are. Some tumours found in the head are unlikely to ever cause problems or grow and can be observed with repeated scans. Other tumours will require treatment. Some of the common treatments are described below:

Biopsy of a tumour means getting a sample of a tumour to look at under a microscope to see exactly what type of tumour something is, in order to plan the next steps of the treatment process. Having a brain biopsy requires an operation under general anaesthesia (being put to sleep) where a small hole is made in the skull to allow for a needle to be guided into the tumour and a sample removed and sent to the lab. Sometimes we use special equipment to guide the needle to exactly the right place and this can involve using a computer guidance system or having a guideframe put on to the head before the operation.

A craniotomy is an operation to open the head by making a trap door in the skull through which we can gain access to the brain to operate on it. Sometimes we are able to remove a whole tumour (total excision) this way and sometimes it isn’t possible to take all of a tumour away and we take as much as is safe (debulking). Sometimes a craniotomy operation is performed where the patient is awake for part of the procedure (known as awake craniotomy), this is usually performed where tumours are found close to or are involving parts of the brain that are important in speech, language or movement functions.

Radiotherapy involves the use of targeted radiation to attack tumour cells. There are different types and courses of radiotherapy depending on the type, size and site of the tumour being targeted. Sometimes the whole brain is irradiated and sometimes a machine called gamma knife is used to target a specific small area.

Chemotherapy means giving drugs that are designed to attack tumour cells, rather than normal ones. Some types of chemotherapy are available in tablet form and some need to be injected through a drip. Chemotherapy is not suitable for all types of brain tumour. If a tumour is suitable for chemotherapy, the oncologists will be able to go through this treatment in more detail.

What Is The Outlook?

The outlook for people with brain tumours depends very much on what type of tumour people have and how aggressive it is, as well as what treatments are suitable. The team looking after you will be able to tell you more about what to expect on an individual basis.

In order to improve the support system for those with brain tumours, we have specialist oncology nurses who work closely with the medial staff and patients to help in every way that we can. For further information click here.

Brain Tumour Research and Support External Website):
Brain Tumour Research and Support is a Yorkshire-based brain tumour charity, providing funds for brain tumour research and patient support. The link below leads to their website, which offers lots of information and support for patients and families of people with brain tumours.

Link to Brain Tumour Research and Support website


Page Author: Mr Ian Anderson, March 2011

Website created and edited by Ian Anderson