Can You Feel a Brain Tumor?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 6/16/2022

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal cell growth in the brain. You can't feel a brain tumor directly because the brain and skull have no nerve endings.
A brain tumor is an abnormal cell growth in the brain. You can't feel a brain tumor directly because the brain and skull have no nerve endings.

You can't feel a brain tumor directly because the brain and skull have no nerve endings. The lack of nerve endings means that your brain can't sense pain. But when a tumor grows and starts to put pressure on nerves and blood vessels around the brain, in the skull, you may get a painful headache.

Very few headaches are signs of a brain tumor. Most have nothing to do with brain tumors. You can only feel some symptoms of a brain tumor in its later stages.

A brain tumor is an abnormal cell growth in the brain. Brain tumors get classified into more than 120 types. The type of brain tumor depends on which part of the brain it has affected. A tumor can grow anywhere in the brain. The brain is complex and delicate, so any tumor can be dangerous. Not every brain tumor is cancer. There are two types of tumors, benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous).

Brain tumors are pretty rare. They occur in about 30 out of 100,000 adults. A brain tumor becomes dangerous when it grows and starts to put pressure on the adjacent parts of the brain. Such tumors can stop fluid movement in your brain, causing extra pressure in the skull. Some brain tumors can become cancerous and spread to other parts of the brain or spine.

Most brain tumors come to the brain from other parts of the body. Such a tumor is called a metastatic or secondary brain tumor. The secondary brain tumor is most common in individuals who have a history of cancer. Common types of cancers that can spread to the brain include: 

If the tumor originates in the brain or the parts around the brain, it's referred to as a primary brain tumor. Such tumors develop when a normal brain cell mutates and continues to grow into a tumor. Some examples of primary brain tumors are:

  • Meningiomas
  • Germ cell tumors
  • Gliomas
  • Pituitary adenomas
  • Acoustic neuromas
  • Medulloblastomas
  • Craniopharyngiomas

Brain tumor headache

Headaches are the most common symptom of a brain tumor. But that doesn't mean you have a tumor just because you have a headache. Tumors usually show no signs in their early stages. Most people start getting symptoms of a tumor after it has reached its later stages. 

In the case of a brain tumor, you may start getting the effects of pressure after the tumor has gotten too big. Headaches from a brain tumor are different from regular headaches.

Sometimes a headache from a brain tumor may be confused with the other types. While a migraine or a tension headache might be as painful, they are not life-threatening. Suppose you are mainly experiencing a headache with a consistent pattern. In that case, that's more of a migraine than a brain tumor. Headache from a brain tumor is usually accompanied by a number of other symptoms.

Main symptoms of a brain tumor headache

Your headache may be due to a brain tumor if you get:

  • Frequent morning headaches as you wake up
  • A headache that changes when you switch positions
  • Frequent night headaches that wake you from sleep
  • Frequent headaches that go on for days or even weeks
  • Headaches that don't go away after taking standard pain medications like aspirin and ibuprofen 

But remember that brain tumors are not the only condition that causes such pains. Consider looking out for headaches that frequently occur, in different types, and have changing severity. Such occurrences might be an indication of a brain tumor.

Also, consider talking to your doctor if you suddenly start getting frequent painful headaches that you are not used to getting before.

Other symptoms of brain tumor

Depending on the part of the brain that the tumor has developed, symptoms may vary. That's because different parts of the brain have specific functions. For instance, a tumor that develops at the back of the head may cause issues with balance, movement, and coordination. The cerebellum (the part of the brain associated with those functions) is found at the back. The size of the brain tumor and the speed it's growing also determines the symptoms you get.

The other common symptoms of brain tumors include: 

  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Difficulty putting together words or thoughts
  • Personality changes
  • Numbness, weaknesses, or paralysis of one section of the body
  • Dizziness, lack of balance
  • Hearing issues
  • Sight issues
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Loss of memory


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Risk factors of brain tumors

While the exact cause of most brain tumors is unknown, some factors put you at higher risk:

  1. Age. The older you get, the higher your chances of developing a brain tumor. The majority of brain tumor cases affect adults between 85 and 89. But certain types of brain tumors occur more in children.
  2. Genetic inheritance. If you have a family history of conditions like tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2, and Turner syndrome, you are more likely to develop a brain tumor. Those conditions have been found to increase the risk of getting brain tumors.
  3. RadiationCertain brain tumors affect individuals who have done head CT scans, X-rays, and radiotherapy. However, radiation only causes very few types of brain tumors.

Treatment of brain tumors

The management of brain tumors depends on factors like:

  • The type of tumor
  • The location
  • Your health situation
  • The size and how far it has spread
  • The abnormality extent of the cells

Brain tumor treatment involves:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Steroids
  • Medications for symptoms management (i.e., painkillers)
  • Surgery


Early detection of a brain tumor is vital for successfully treating the condition. The earlier you detect the tumor, the easier it will be to get rid of it. If you get some of the symptoms mentioned earlier and you suspect you might have a brain tumor, consider talking to your doctor about it for proper examination and screening.

Medically Reviewed on 6/16/2022

Mayo Clinic: "Brain tumor."

NHS: "Brain tumours"

The Johns Hopkins University: "Brain Tumors and Brain Cancer," "Headache: Could It Be a Brain Tumor?"