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 GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, Pictures

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, Pictures

What are the types of brain cancers?

The most common primary brain tumors are usually named for the brain tissue type (including brain stem cancers) from which they originally developed. These are gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (medulloblastomas). Gliomas have several subtypes, which include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, and choroid plexus papillomas. These names all reflect different types of cells in the normal brain that can become cancers. When the grades are coupled with the tumor name, it gives doctors a better understanding about the severity of the brain cancer. For example, a grade III (anaplastic) glioma is an aggressive tumor, while an acoustic neuroma is a grade I benign tumor. However, even benign tumors can cause serious problems if they grow big enough to cause increased intracranial pressure or obstruct vascular structures or cerebrospinal fluid flow.

What is brain cancer staging?

Brain cancers are staged (stage describes the extent of the cancer) according to their cell type and grade because they seldom spread to other organs, while other cancers, such as breast or lung cancer, are staged according to so-called TMN staging which is based on the location and spread of cancer cells. In general, these cancer stages range from 0 to 4; with stage 4 indicating the cancer has spread to another organ (highest stage is 4).

What is metastatic brain cancer?

Cancer cells that develop in a body organ such as the lung (primary cancer tissue type) can spread via direct extension, or through the lymphatic system and/or through the bloodstream to other body organs such as the brain. Tumors formed by such cancer cells that spread (metastasize) to other organs are called metastatic tumors. Metastatic brain cancer is a mass of cells (tumor) that originated in another body organ and has spread into the brain tissue. Metastatic tumors in the brain are more common than primary brain tumors. They are usually named after the tissue or organ where the cancer first developed (for example, metastatic lung or breast cancer tumors in the brain, which are the most common types found). Occasionally, an abbreviated name may be used that often confuses people; for example, "small cell brain cancer" actually means "small cell lung cancer that has metastasized to the brain." People should not hesitate to ask their doctor about any terms they do not understand or about the origin of their cancer.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2016

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