What is a brain tumour?

When abnormal cells in the brain form a mass that grows uncontrollably it is called a brain tumour or intracranial tumour. There are over 150 different types of brain tumours that have been identified but the two main classifications are primary and secondary tumours.

Types of brain tumours

A primary brain tumour is one that originated in the brain. These tumours can be malignant or benign. Malignant brain tumours do not usually spread to other parts of the body although they can spread to other parts of the brain and central nervous system.

Secondary brain tumours, also known as metastatic tumours, are tumours that initially grew elsewhere in the body and spread to the brain. These tumours are generally malignant.


The symptoms of brain cancer vary greatly due to the fact that different parts of the brain control different aspects of the body. Therefore, the location of the tumour in the brain will determine the symptoms that a patient experiences.

While some people will have symptoms that develop slowly over time, others can have no symptoms until the tumour is large, in which case the patient’s health will decline rapidly.

Symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A change in behaviour or personality
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Problems with vision, speech or hearing
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble focusing
  • A strange tingling sensation, weaknesses or numbness on one side of the body or face


To diagnose brain cancer, the doctor will do a neurological examination to check the hearing, reflexes, vision, balance and coordination of the patient.

Imaging tests such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET), will also be done.

A biopsy of the tumour may be performed either through surgery or by inserting a needle through a small hole in the skull to extract a sample of tissue which is sent to a laboratory for testing.


The treatment of brain cancer depends on a number of factors such as where the tumour is positioned in the brain, its size, and the patient’s age and general health.

Brain cancer is generally treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery to remove the tumour.