Brain Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideCancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

Cancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

What is brain cancer?

Brain cancer is a disease of the brain in which cancer cells (malignant cells) arise in the brain tissue. Cancer cells grow to form a mass of cancer tissue (tumor) that interferes with brain functions such as muscle control, sensation, memory, and other normal body functions. Tumors composed of cancer cells are called malignant tumors, and those composed of mainly noncancerous cells are called benign tumors. Cancer cells that develop from brain tissue are called primary brain tumors while tumors that spread from other body sites to the brain are termed metastatic or secondary brain tumors. Statistics suggest that brain cancer occurs infrequently (1.4% of all new cancer patients per year), so it is not considered to be a common illness and is likely to develop in about 23,770 new people per year with about 16,050 deaths as estimated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society. Only about 5% of brain tumors may be due to hereditary genetic conditions such as neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, and a few others.

What are grades of brain cancers?

Not all brain tumors are alike, even if they arise from the same type of brain tissue. Tumors are assigned a grade depending on how the cells in the tumor appear microscopically. The grade also provides insight as to the cell's growth rate. NCI lists the following grades from benign to most aggressive (grade IV):

  • Grade I: The tissue is benign. The cells look nearly like normal brain cells, and they grow slowly.
  • Grade II: The tissue is malignant. The cells look less like normal cells than do the cells in a grade I tumor.
  • Grade III: The malignant tissue has cells that look very different from normal cells. The abnormal cells are actively growing and have a distinctly abnormal appearance (anaplastic).
  • Grade IV: The malignant tissue has cells that look most abnormal and tend to grow quickly.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2016

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