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Brain Tumor

What Is a Brain Tumor?

A brain tumor is a mass of abnormal cells in the brain. As tumors get bigger, they can impair how the brain functions and cause mental and physical symptoms.

Some brain tumors are easy to treat. Others are fatal, but treatments can help people live longer.

Types of brain and spine tumors and cancer we treat include:


Contact the Neuro-Oncology Program to Make an Appointment

To learn more about brain and nervous system cancer or to make an appointment, you can:

Fill out our online contact form.


Brain Tumor Overview

There are two main types of all tumors:

  • Benign tumors are noncancerous and slow-growing. They rarely spread to other parts of the brain. Surgeons often remove this type of tumor.
  • Malignant tumors are cancers. They grow quickly, often invading the surrounding brain and nerve tissue.

There are many types of brain and spine tumors. Malignant CNS tumors include both primary and secondary tumors.

Primary brain tumors

These cancerous tumors start in the brain and rarely spread to other parts of the body.

The most common primary brain tumors are gliomas.

Gliomas are a group of tumors that arise from the glial cells.

There are many types of glial cells — all with different jobs to keep the brain working properly. But their main job is to support and protect the neurons.

Gliomas can grow slowly, moderately, or quickly.

Low-grade, or slow-growing, gliomas are more common in children, while high-grade are more common in older adults.

Fast-growing gliomas are harder to treat.

Besides their growth rate, prognosis and treatment depend on pinpointing molecular changes with the tumor cells. This lets us tailor treatment to each person's tumor subtype.

Glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that needs intense treatment, is the most common subtype of glioma.

Metastatic brain tumors

With these types of tumors, cancer starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain.

Any cancer can spread to the brain, spinal cord, or both.

But some cancers are more likely to spread to the brain such as:

  • Lung
  • Breast
  • Kidney
  • Colon or rectal
  • Skin

More rarely, cancers can spread to the fluid or membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Doctors call this leptomeningeal disease.

Genetic changes in normal cells can cause the cells to grow out of control.

In most cases, these gene changes happen in people with no family history of brain tumors. They tend to occur as people age.

But having a close family member, like a sibling or parent, who's had a brain tumor increases a person's risk.

Most brain tumors you can't prevent.

But smoking increases the risk of other cancers, especially lung cancers. So, quitting smoking may prevent cancer that starts elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain.


Brain Tumor Treatment

For benign and slow-growing brain tumors, your doctor may just keep an eye on them. But most brain cancers are aggressive — and require aggressive treatments to slow down their growth.

Doctors often combine surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to treat brain cancer.

Learn more about treatment options for brain and nervous system cancer.


Brain Tumor Survival Rate

The survival rates vary by slow-growing and fast-growing brain tumors and molecular markers within the tumor.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center doctors and researchers are leading trials and working with others across the country to improve survival rates.


Why Choose UPMC Hillman Cancer Center for Brain Tumor Care?

  • We offer complete, seamless, patient-centered care. You can get cutting-edge cancer treatments at our flagship center in Pittsburgh. Or you can get the same standard of care at more than 70 sites throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Ohio.
  • Our doctors are leading innovative trials — and testing promising new treatments — to help people live longer and fuller lives. Their involvement in National Institutes of Health and other research networks means you have access to brain tumor trials across the country.
  • UPMC boasts the largest neurosurgery program in the U.S. and offers cutting-edge surgeries that most centers don't have.
  • We also offer advanced genetic testing, targeted therapies, and immunotherapies. All of these allow us to treat brain tumors more precisely.