Brain Tumor Types, Symptoms & Causes

Cushing Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Tumor Center offers a multidisciplinary program that focuses on the management of different types of brain tumors. Our leading-edge center is directed by Dr. Michael Schulder, an internationally recognized authority on the treatment of brain and skull base neoplasms (tumors). Our services include comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of a wide spectrum of brain tumors utilizing the most advanced diagnostic and treatment methods available.

What Is a Brain Tumor?
A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells. Brain tumors are typically categorized as primary or secondary. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain and can be benign or malignant. Secondary brain tumors (metastatic) are malignant and more common.

There are two main types of brain tumors:

  • Benign Brain Tumors A benign brain tumor consists of cells that grow slowly and do not spread to other areas of the brain or body. They have distinct boundaries. Surgery alone may cure this type of tumor.
  • Malignant Brain Tumors A malignant brain tumor is life-threatening. It may be malignant because it consists of cancer cells, or it may be called malignant because of its location. In other words, a brain tumor composed of benign cells—but located in a vital area—may behave in a malignant fashion. A malignant brain tumor made up of cancerous cells can invade and destroy healthy tissue so these areas cannot function properly.

Common, specific types of brain tumors include:

  • Astrocytomas Astrocytomas are the most common type of gliomas (malignant brain tumors). They are most commonly found in the main part of the brain, the cerebrum. People of all ages can develop astrocytomas, but they are more common in adults, particularly middle-aged men. Low-grade tumors usually grow slowly. Types of astrocytoma brain tumors include:
    • low-grade astrocytomas
    • anaplastic astrocytomas
    • glioblastoma multiforme
  • Meningiomas Meningiomas are slow-growing tumors. They account for about 20 percent of primary brain tumors and are most often found in the middle-aged or elderly. Meningiomas develop in the protective linings of the brain and spinal cord. They usually do not invade the surrounding normal brain and do not spread to other parts of the body. They are predominantly benign brain tumors; however, they can be difficult to remove completely and can reoccur.
  • Pituitary gland tumors – Most pituitary gland tumors are adenomas (benign brain tumors), and almost all are benign in adults. Adenomas do not spread outside the skull and usually remain confined to the pituitary gland or in tissue near it
  • Metastatic brain tumors Metastatic brain tumors are malignant brain tumors that result from cancers that started elsewhere in the body, usually the lungs or breasts. They grow rapidly and destroy nearby brain tissue.

The Brain Tumor Center also treats the following types of brain tumors:

  • Brainstem gliomas tumors located in the brain stem where the spinal cord connects to the brain just above the back of the neck
  • Ependymomas – tumors in the epithelial layers of the brain
  • Glioblastoma multiforme – the most aggressive of malignant brain tumors
  • Medulloblastoma – the most common type of childhood brain cancer
  • Oligodendrogliomas – brain tumors that arise from brain tissue
  • Schwannomas – benign brain tumors on the eighth cranial nerve

Brain Tumor Symptoms
The following are the most common symptoms of a brain tumor. However, each patient may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Any tumor, extra tissue or fluid can cause increased intracranial pressure (pressure on the brain) and result in the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting (usually in the morning)
  • Nausea
  • Personality changes
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Decreased cardiac and respiratory function
  • Altered mental status

Brain tumor symptoms in the cerebrum (front of brain) may include:

  • Seizures
  • Visual changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Paralysis or weakness on half of the body or face
  • Increased intracranial pressure
  • Drowsiness and/or confusion
  • Personality changes

Symptoms of a brain tumor in the brainstem (middle of brain) may include:

  • Seizures
  • Endocrine problems (diabetes and/or hormone regulation)
  • Visual changes or double vision
  • Headaches
  • Paralysis of nerves/muscles of the face or half of the body
  • Respiratory changes
  • Increased intracranial pressure

Symptoms of a brain tumor in the cerebellum (back of brain) may include:

  • Increased intracranial pressure
  • Vomiting (usually occurs in the morning without nausea)
  • Headache
  • Uncoordinated muscle movements
  • Problems walking (ataxia)

Brain Tumor Causes
Primary brain tumor causes are largely unknown. Researchers believe most brain tumors are caused by a combination of events. Current areas of investigation focus on:

  • Genetic cell mutations
  • Defects
  • Viruses
  • Injury
  • Chemicals
  • Hormones
  • Environmental factors
  • Occupational factors

Brain tumors are not contagious. It is clear, however, that a large portion of brain tumors result from other cancers, these are called secondary brain tumors.

Brain Tumor Diagnosis
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the Brain Tumor Center at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute may utilize the following tests to diagnose a brain tumor:

  • Angiogram is a procedure in which a dye allows a close inspection of all the blood vessels in the brain to aid in detecting certain types of tumors.
  • Bone Scan detects tumors and bone abnormalities. In a bone scan, a dye is injected and then absorbed by bone tissue so that X-rays can be taken.
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan) is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal and vertical cross-sectional images (often called slices) of the body. A CAT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CAT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is used to map the functional area of a patient's brain. This technique provides an added degree of precision in guidance and navigation during surgery and maximizes tumor resection while minimizing the possibility of weakness, blindness and speech loss.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • MR SPECT is a highly effective method of scanning the brain that can detect tumors that other brain scans might miss. It is a noninvasive test that offers results in real time, decreasing the need for biopsies and other surgeries.
  • Neurological exam in which a physician tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness.
  • Stereotactic Biopsy is a procedure that obtains a specimen of the tumor so that a neuropathologist can analyze it. The goal of the biopsy is to confirm a diagnosis. This minimally invasive approach can be used to obtain a diagnosis either before proceeding with a craniotomy or instead of a larger procedure.

Make an appointment at our Brain Tumor Center
Cushing Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Tumor Center makes it easy for you to take the first steps in ensuring the best neurological care for yourself or your family. Simply email us at neuro@nshs.edu, call us at (516) 941-1260 or 844-56Neuro (844-566-3876). You may also fill out our Request an Appointment form.