Brain tumours are uncontrolled areas of cell growth within the brain. Although some are fast-growing malignant brain tumours, others are benign brain tumours that grow much slower and are not cancerous.

While benign brain tumours are not invasive and do not spread, their very presence can cause problems in the brain; it is important that they are spotted early and treated fast.

Types of benign brain tumour

There are over 120 different types of brain tumour, which represent a spectrum from completely benign to extremely aggressive and invasive. They are generally classified by their level of aggression and named by the area of the brain in which they occur.

Benign brain tumours are described as low grade brain tumours, and are classed as:

  • Slow growing.
  • Not likely to grow back when they have been surgically removed.
  • Not likely to metastasise – they don’t spread.
  • Not often fatal.

Benign brain tumours are not considered to be cancerous. The most common are:

  • Meningiomas: tumours of the meninges, the membranes around the brain.
  • Craniopharyngiomas: these arise in the base of the brain.
  • Haemangiomas: these develop in the blood vessels that supply the brain.
  • Acoustic neuromas: tumours of the acoustic nerve.
  • Pituitary adenomas: these arise in the pituitary gland.

Benign brain tumour symptoms

Benign brain tumours are not dangerous in themselves, but they do cause problems by pressing on the brain and impairing its function. It is important that they are identified and dealt with before they grow large enough to cause damage to the surrounding tissue. All benign brain tumours are extremely serious and need to be treated urgently by an experienced neurosurgeon as part of a larger medical team.

The symptoms of a benign brain tumour will depend on the area affected by the growth. Benign tumours may go unnoticed for many years until they grow large enough to impact on brain function and cause symptoms. Typical symptoms may include:

  • Severe headaches that are worse in the morning.
  • Vomiting without warning and without any obvious reason.
  • A gradual loss of hearing or vision.
  • Experiencing weakness in the legs, or sometimes arms too.
  • Having a blackout, losing consciousness, having a fit or a seizure.
  • Acting differently, showing obvious personality changes.
  • Loss of energy, drowsiness and apathy.

Many of these symptoms have multiple causes, so it is unlikely that experiencing one of them will mean you have a benign brain tumour.

Diagnosing a benign brain tumour

If you have any of the symptoms described above, you should consult your GP, who will undertake a series of tests to assess the likelihood that you have a benign brain tumour.

If this is a possibility, they will refer you to a specialist who will perform a further series of diagnostic tests, such as an MRI scan, a CT scan, a PET scan or an EEG.

If these show signs of a brain tumour, a biopsy will be taken of the brain tissue to find out whether the tumour is benign or malignant. Malignant brain tumours are classed as brain cancer and need different treatment.