About brain cancer (2023)

What should people know about cancer of the brain and other parts of the nervous system?

The brain, spinal cord, meninges, cranial nerves and other parts of the nervous system are responsible for communication in the body. Together, they control and organize all of the body's functions so that they work together.

Cancers that start in the brain usually do not spread outside of the nervous system. However, many other types of cancer (such as lung cancer and breast cancer) frequently spread to the brain. This is called metastasis. The data on this website show only those cases of cancer that began in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Cases of cancer that began in other parts of the body and spread to the brain (metastases) are not included here. Unless otherwise noted, benign brain tumors are also not included.

Each year, about 800 men and over 600 women in New York State are diagnosed with cancer of the brain and nervous system. About 500 men and about 400 women die from this disease each year in New York State.

Who gets brain cancer?

Cancers of the brain occur in people of all ages, but are more frequent in two age groups, children under the age of 15 and adults 65 years of age and over. Cancers of the spinal cord are less common than cancers of the brain. Cancers of the brain and other parts of the nervous system are more common in White people than in Black or Asian people. Tumors of the meninges, which are usually benign, are more common among women than men.

What factors increase risk for developing brain cancer?

At this time, the causes of brain cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Hereditary conditions and family history. People with certain inherited diseases (Li-Fraumeni cancer family syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, von Recklinghausen's disease [neurofibromatosis type 1], neurofibromatosis type 2, von Hippel-Lindau disease and familial polyposis) are more likely to get cancer of the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Ionizing radiation. Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation in the head area, such as radiation treatments for other cancers, is known to increase the risk of brain cancer.

What other risk factors for brain cancer are scientists studying?

Scientists are studying other possible risk factors for cancer of the brain and other parts of the nervous system such as electromagnetic fields, use of cellular phones, viruses, injuries, and diet. Exposure to chemicals in the workplace such as petroleum products, vinyl chloride and others may also be associated with an increased risk of getting brain cancer. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of brain cancer.

Is the number of people with cancer of the brain and other parts of the nervous system increasing?

Cancers that begin in the brain do not appear to be increasing. The number of people with metastatic brain tumors (those that have spread to the brain from another part of the body) is increasing. Cancer patients are living longer, giving cancer cells more time to spread to the brain.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting brain cancer?

To help reduce the risk of getting cancer of the brain and other parts of the nervous system:

  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.
  • Be aware of workplace health and safety rules and follow them.

How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?

  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

For more information:


How long can you live with brain cancer? ›

The 5-year relative survival rate for people younger than age 15 is about 75%. For people age 15 to 39, the 5-year relative survival rate nears 72%. The 5-year relative survival rate for people age 40 and older is 21%. Experts measure relative survival rate statistics for a brain tumor every 5 years.

Can brain cancer be cured? ›

The outlook for a malignant brain tumour depends on things like where it is in the brain, its size, and what grade it is. It can sometimes be cured if caught early on, but a brain tumour often comes back and sometimes it isn't possible to remove it.

What is the cause of brain cancer? ›

The cause of brain cancer is still largely unknown. Although some genetic conditions and environmental factors may contribute to the development of brain cancer, the risk factors are much less defined for brain cancer than for other cancers in the body.

How do people cope with brain cancer? ›

It's normal to feel scared, insecure, confused and angry about a brain tumor diagnosis– and it is possible to deal with these feelings. Try to be patient with yourself, your loved ones, and the very slow-moving treatment process. You can take an empowerment approach to gain a sense of control over this disease.

Does brain cancer progress quickly? ›

They typically grow rapidly and invade surrounding healthy brain structures. Brain cancer can be life-threatening due to the changes it causes to the vital structures of the brain. Some examples of malignant tumors that originate in or near the brain include olfactory neuroblastoma, chondrosarcoma and medulloblastoma.

Is it painful to have brain cancer? ›

Brain tumor headaches tend to cause pain that's worse when coughing or straining. People with brain tumors most often report that the headache feels like a tension headache. Some people say the headache feels like a migraine. Brain tumors in the back of the head might cause a headache with neck pain.

What are the final stages of brain cancer? ›

In the final stages of the disease, the patient's body will begin to shut down. Patients may lose the ability to speak, eat, and move. They may also suffer from seizures, hallucinations, or changes in breathing pattern. The skin may take on a bluish tint, and the patient may become increasingly lethargic.

Can you live a full life with brain cancer? ›

Depending on your age at diagnosis, the tumour may eventually cause your death. Or you may live a full life and die from something else. It will depend on your tumour type, where it is in the brain, and how it responds to treatment. Brain tumours can also be fast growing (high grade) and come back despite treatment.

Does anyone survive brain cancer? ›

more than 95 out of 100 people aged 15 to 39 (more than 95%) survive their brain tumour for 5 years or more. more than 85 out of 100 people aged 40 or older (more than 85%) survive their brain tumour for 5 years or more.

What is the deadliest cancer? ›

Lung and bronchus cancer is responsible for the most deaths with 127,070 people expected to die from this disease. That is nearly three times the 52,550 deaths due to colorectal cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer death.

Who is most likely to get brain cancer? ›

Who gets brain cancer? Cancers of the brain occur in people of all ages, but are more frequent in two age groups, children under the age of 15 and adults 65 years of age and over. Cancers of the spinal cord are less common than cancers of the brain.

Where does most brain cancer start? ›

Meningioma. Meningioma is the most common primary brain tumor, accounting for more than 30% of all brain tumors. Meningiomas originate in the meninges, the outer three layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain just under the skull. Women are diagnosed with meningiomas more often than men.

How does a brain cancer patient feel? ›

Common symptoms of brain tumours include headaches, feeling or being sick and seizures (fits). These symptoms and the others listed below are often caused by other medical conditions. But if you have any of them, it's important to see your doctor.

What not to say to someone with brain cancer? ›

Don't say: “Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be fine!” Often we say things like this because we don't know what else to say, we don't fully understand, or we're scared, but it can feel too reductive. Instead why not say, “This sounds incredibly hard for you, let me know how I can help.”

Does brain cancer happen suddenly? ›

Signs and symptoms of brain or spinal cord tumors may develop gradually and become worse over time, or they can happen suddenly, such as with a seizure.

Does brain cancer usually spread? ›

Tumors starting in the brain or spinal cord can spread to other parts of the central nervous system, but they almost never spread to other organs. These tumors are dangerous because they can interfere with essential brain functions.

What is the fastest spreading brain cancer? ›

Glioblastomas (grade IV), which are the fastest growing. These tumors make up more than half of all gliomas and are the most common malignant brain tumors in adults.

When is brain cancer usually caught? ›

Most brain tumors are found when a person goes to a doctor because of signs or symptoms they are having. Most often, the outlook for people with a brain or spinal cord tumor depends on their age, the type of tumor, and its location, not by how early it is detected.

What are the red flags of a brain tumor? ›

Symptoms of a brain tumour

seizures (fits) persistently feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting) and drowsiness. mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality. progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body.

How do you know if brain cancer is getting worse? ›

As the cancer progresses it may produce these symptoms:
  1. increased sleepiness;
  2. decreased ability to move around;
  3. trouble speaking or understanding conversation;
  4. loss of memory and especially the ability to form new memories;
  5. impaired judgment, especially the ability to judge how much help one needs to get around;

How long can you live with Stage 4 brain cancer? ›

Grade 4 – Glioblastoma

A grade 4 astrocytoma is called a glioblastoma. The average survival time is 12-18 months – only 25% of glioblastoma patients survive more than one year, and only 5% of patients survive more than five years.

Can you beat Stage 4 brain cancer? ›

I know many glioblastoma (level 4) survivors that have beaten the odds – one is over 16 years out clean- another is almost 25 years out.

Which brain tumor is not curable? ›

There's no cure for glioblastoma, which is also known as glioblastoma multiforme. Treatments might slow cancer growth and reduce symptoms.

How fast do brain tumors grow? ›

Many brain tumors grow slowly, particularly benign brain tumors. Some benign tumors may be safely monitored by a medical team for months or even years rather than being immediately removed with surgery. Many malignant tumors, though, are more aggressive and fast-growing and likely need prompt treatment.

What is the survival rate for a brain biopsy? ›

Brain Biopsy: Survival

The 30- and 180-day survival rates for brain biopsies were 100% and 82%, respectively, for 2021.

Is brain cancer the deadliest cancer? ›

The most common form of malignant brain cancer—called a glioblastoma—is notoriously wily and considered the deadliest human cancer.

Is brain cancer hereditary? ›

Family history and genetic conditions

Your risk is higher than other people in the general population if you have a close relative who has had a brain tumour. A close relative is a parent, sibling or child. A small proportion of brain tumours are related to known genetic conditions.

Can brain cancer go into remission? ›

A remission can be temporary or permanent. For most primary brain tumors, despite imaging tests showing that the tumor growth is controlled or there are no visible signs of a tumor, it is common for a brain tumor to recur. Patients will often continue to receive regular MRI scans to watch for a recurrence.

What is the most painful cancer death? ›

Cancer spreading to the bone is the most painful type of cancer. Pain can be caused by a tumor pressing on the nerves around the bone. As the tumor size increases, it can release chemicals that irritate the area around the tumor. Cancer may either start or spread to the bone.

What cancers are hardest to cure? ›

Although there are no curable cancers, melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and breast, prostate, testicular, cervical, and thyroid cancer have some of the highest 5-year relative survival rates. Cancer is a disease that causes cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably in certain parts of the body.

What cancers Cannot be cured? ›

Certain types of cancer are or may become chronic and never completely go away:
  • Chronic leukemia.
  • Some types of lymphoma.
  • Ovarian cancer.
  • Breast cancer.
Jan 6, 2022

What gender gets brain cancer the most? ›

The Biology of Sex Differences

These differences are frequently linked to sex hormones, such as testosterone or estrogen, which contribute to many biological differences between men and women. But males are more likely to develop malignant brain tumors than females at all ages, including in childhood.

How long can you live with untreated brain cancer? ›

Glioblastoma (GBM) remains the most common and most aggressive primary brain tumor, with a median survival of merely 3–4 months without treatment [Omuro and DeAngelis, 2013]. This increases to 12 months with surgery and adjuvant radiation therapy [Stupp et al. 2005].

How rare is brain cancer? ›

What Are Brain Tumors? Brain tumors are rare — less than 1 percent of the population is diagnosed with a malignant (cancerous) brain tumor during their lifetime.

How long can you have cancer without knowing? ›

If you're wondering how long you can have cancer without knowing it, there's no straight answer. Some cancers can be present for months or years before they're detected. Some commonly undetected cancers are slow-growing conditions, which gives doctors a better chance at successful treatment.

How do doctors know if you have brain cancer? ›

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans are used most often to look for brain diseases. These scans will almost always show a brain tumor, if one is present.

Do brain tumors spread fast? ›

A malignant brain tumour is a fast-growing cancer that spreads to other areas of the brain and spine. Generally, brain tumours are graded from 1 to 4, according to their behaviour, such as how fast they grow and how likely they are to grow back after treatment.

How long does it take for brain cancer to progress? ›

The more aggressive a tumor is, the faster it grows. Generally speaking, a brain tumor can take several months or even years to develop. Glioblastomas are the most common and aggressive brain cancer.

Is brain cancer usually a terminal? ›

Some brain tumours grow very slowly (low grade) and cannot be cured. Depending on your age at diagnosis, the tumour may eventually cause your death. Or you may live a full life and die from something else. It will depend on your tumour type, where it is in the brain, and how it responds to treatment.

What is the life expectancy of Stage 4 brain cancer? ›

Grade 4 – Glioblastoma

A grade 4 astrocytoma is called a glioblastoma. The average survival time is 12-18 months – only 25% of glioblastoma patients survive more than one year, and only 5% of patients survive more than five years.

What are the warning signs of a brain tumor? ›

General symptoms of a brain tumor
  • Headaches, which may be severe and worsen with activity or in the early morning.
  • Seizures. People may experience different types of seizures. Certain drugs can help prevent or control them. ...
  • Personality or memory changes.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Memory problems.

What is the deadliest brain tumor? ›

GBM is a devastating brain cancer that can result in death in six months or less, if untreated; hence, it is imperative to seek expert neuro-oncological and neurosurgical care immediately, as this can impact overall survival.

How aggressive is brain cancer? ›

When it comes to malignant brain tumors, "aggressive" means that the cancer forms, grows in size or spreads at a rapid pace. While there are well over 100 different types of brain tumors, glioblastoma is typically recognized as the most aggressive primary brain cancer in adults.

What is the most common brain cancer? ›

Gliomas are the most prevalent type of adult brain tumor, accounting for 78 percent of malignant brain tumors. They arise from the supporting cells of the brain, called the glia.

How is brain cancer diagnosed? ›

In general, diagnosing a brain tumor usually begins with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Once MRI shows that there is a tumor in the brain, the most common way to determine the type of brain tumor is to look at the results from a sample of tissue after a biopsy or surgery.

What happens when brain cancer goes untreated? ›

If left untreated, any type of glioma may grow and press on other structures within the brain. Pressure on the brain can be harmful as it forces the brain against the skull, causing damage to the brain and hampering its ability to function properly.

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