• There are many different kinds of brain tumour
  • They can grow in the brain and spinal cord, and can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer)
  • Some common symptoms are feeling sick or drowsy, having fits, headaches and problems with your vision
  • Brain tumours are usually diagnosed with a combination of blood tests, scans and biopsies, depending on what kind they think you might have
  • Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the main treatments for brain tumours.

What are brain tumours?

There are a lot of different types of brain tumour. They can grow in the brain and spinal cord.

Brain tumours can either be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

The benign ones tend to grow more slowly and are less likely to come back if they’ve been completely removed.

The malignant ones tend to grow faster, and can sometimes spread. They might come back after treatment.

Benign and malignant brain tumours are both treated in similar ways, but the exact care you get depends on what type of tumour you have, where it is, and how big it is.

Brain tumour symptoms

Common signs of a tumour in your brain can be:

  • Feeling sick or drowsy
  • Having fits
  • Headaches that feel different to normal headaches
  • Problems with your vision, balance or coordination
  • Problems with your emotions, behaviour or memory
  • Problems with your growth and puberty, as the tumour can interfere with the levels of hormones in your body.

Common signs of a tumour in your spinal cord can be:

  • Pain, weakness, numbness or strange sensations in your arms or legs
  • Problems going to the toilet
  • If you’re male, it might make it tricky to get an erection, too.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should always get them checked out. There are lots of other things which could cause them, other than cancer, but it’s always best to check.

How are brain tumours diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you might have a brain or spinal tumour, you’ll have different tests to check your nervous system.

This can include everything from answering simple questions to seeing whether you can feel pinpricks on your skin.

A range of hospital tests can also be used.

MRI and CT scans are used to build up a 3D image of your brain or spinal cord.

PET scans, SPECT scans, blood tests and X-rays are all used to find out more about tumours.

And a biopsy can be used to take cells from a tumour so they can be looked at closely under a microscope for signs of cancer. You’ll be given an anaesthetic if you have a biopsy.

You can find out more in our Getting diagnosed section.

Brain tumour treatment

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the main treatments for brain tumours.

Surgery can be used to remove all or part of a tumour – if it’s possible to do that without damaging your brain.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used to remove a tumour and surrounding cells if surgery isn’t an option, or to treat cancer cells left behind after surgery.

Sometimes all three are used, together or separately.

Find out more about cancer treatments.

The information on this page is more than three years old.