Guidelines for treating this cancer have been developed by the Neuro-Oncology Tumour Group.
For health professional information on treating this cancer, please see our Cancer Management Guidelines (Neuro-Oncology).
Brain tumours in children often behave very differently from those in adults. Children with tumours of the brain and central nervous system are treated by pediatric oncologists at the BC Children’s Hospital.
BC Cancer produces
Headlines: a newsletter for brain tumour patients and their families.
Brain and spinal cord tumours have many more specific names. See the 'Diagnosis and staging' tab for types and stages of brain tumours.
The brain and spinal cord together are known as the central nervous system (CNS):
- The adult brain weighs about three pounds, and is tightly enclosed by the skull.
- It is a complex organ composed of nerve cells (neurons) and supporting tissues (glia).
- The brain has four main parts: the meninges which are the membranes that enclose the brain; the cerebrum which is the largest part of the brain and is split into two hemispheres; the cerebellum which is the back part of the brain, located under the cerebral hemispheres; and the brain stem which connects to the spinal cord.
- The brain controls everything that goes on in our bodies: our senses, thought, reasoning, memory, emotion, movement, breathing etc. It is also the seat of our personality and behaviour.
- The spinal cord is a thin tube of nerve tissue that extends down the back from the brain into the pelvis. It is protected by bony vertebrae.
- The spinal cord transmits nerve signals back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body.
Listed below are some of the known risk factors for this cancer. Not all of the risk factors below may cause this cancer, but they may be contributing factors.
- The brain is a frequent site for the spread of cancer (metastasis) from other sites in the body (such as breast, lung, melanoma, and colon). When cancer has spread to the brain, the tumour is considered to be a secondary, or metastatic tumour.
- Tumours that start in the brain tissue first (primary brain tumours) can strike at any age, although most brain tumours are found in young children and adults after age 40.
- Glioblastoma and meningioma are the two most common brain tumours found in adults.
- Primary brain tumours are the most common solid tumour in children, accounting for 25% of all pediatric cancers.
- Primary brain tumours may be benign (non-cancerous, generally slow-growing) or malignant (cancerous, fast-growing).
- Primary brain tumours rarely spread to other parts of the body.
- Exposing the head to ionizing radiation is a risk factor for brain tumours. Therapeutic ionizing radiation includes radiation therapy, CT scans or X-rays.
- Radiation therapy to the head region (given to treat other cancers) increases the risk of a later brain tumour. Despite this, the benefit of the radiation therapy far outweighs the risk of developing subsequent brain tumours.
- Inherited genetic conditions such as neurofibromatosis types 1 and 2, Li Fraumeni syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis are associated with increased risks of certain types of brain tumours.
- Occupational exposure to benzene, petroleum products, vinyl chloride and other chemicals may raise risk.
- Cell phones give off radiofrequency signals, but these have not been conclusively shown to increase the risk of brain tumours. More research needs to be done on the long term use of cell phone technology before true risks can be determined.
- Brain tumours accounted for 1.38% of cancers diagnosed in all age groups in BC in 2008.
Most primary brain tumours have no known cause.
Secondary brain tumours from lung cancer are strongly related to tobacco use.
To reduce your risk, don’t smoke, and avoid exposure to tobacco and cigarette smoke. Even if you have been using tobacco for many years, quitting will reduce your cancer risk. Support is available to help you successfully quit. Visit the BC Cancer Agency’s Prevention page on Tobacco
for information and resources.
No effective screening program exists for this cancer yet.
Many of the common symptoms of brain tumours could also be symptoms of other conditions. Consult a doctor for any of the following symptoms:
- Headaches that don’t respond to usual headache remedies; often worse in the morning
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision changes, double vision, loss of vision
- Unusual or sudden changes in activity level, personality or behaviour
- Unusual drowsiness
- Walking or balance or fine motor problems