Brain tumours

A primary brain tumour is a tumour that started growing in the tissues of the brain. There are nearly 100 different types of brain tumours. 

What is a brain tumour?

They are generally named after the type of cells they started growing from. For example a tumour that develops from the cells that support the nerve cells of the brain called glial cells is called a glioma.

Brain tumours can also be benign (non-malignant). Benign generally means that the tumour is relatively slow growing, less likely to come back if it is removed and doesn’t have the ability to spread to other parts of the body.

Sometimes, benign brain tumours are treated in a similar way to malignant tumours.

Over 120 individual types of brain tumour can be classified according to a system authorised by the World Health Organisation.

What types of brain tumour are there?

Primary malignant brain tumours

These are rare, affecting only about 8 people in every 100,000 of the population in the UK. 

Primary malignant brain tumours that can be treated by neurologists and neurosurgeons and multi-disciplinary teams at The London Clinic include:

  • Higher grade astrocytoma such as anaplastic astrocytoma, which tends to occur in adults aged 30-50, and glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive and invasive glial tumour
  • High grade ependymomas, which develop from cells that form the lining of the fluid spaces in the spinal cord and brain ventricles
  • Chordoma, which occurs at the base of the skull or in the spine
  • High grade glioma
  • Medulloblastoma, which occurs in young children
  • Malignant forms of oligodendroglioma, which develop from cells that produce myelin, the protein that insulates nerve cells
  • Aggressive mixed gliomas: some gliomas contain cells that have the characteristics of 2 or 3 different glioma types

Benign skull tumours

Benign tumours that can be treated by neurologists and neurosurgeons and multi-disciplinary teams at The London Clinic include:

Acoustic neuroma

Also called a schwannoma or neurilemmoma, an acoustic neuroma is a tumour that develops from the insulating sheath that surrounds nerve fibres. It usually forms on the eighth cranial nerve, but can affect others.


Pituitary tumours

These can develop at any age and disturb the production of hormones by the pituitary gland causing a range of disorders. Endocrinologists at The London Clinic provide expert diagnosis and management for pituitary tumours.

Brain surgery to treat pituitary tumours frequently involves using a transsphenoidal approach (inserting surgical instruments through the nose) or endoscopic techniques.

Pineal gland tumours

These cause about 2 in every 100 brain tumours that are diagnosed in children. They are usually caught early because they cause symptoms associated with hydrocephalus (fluid build-up within the brain ventricles) and produce raised levels of hormones that are detected in blood tests.

Low grade gliomas


Tumours that develop from the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain.

Low grade astrocytoma

Such as pilocytic astrocytoma, which mainly affects children and teenagers.

Metastatic brain tumours

Metastatic brain tumours develop when cancer from another part of the body spreads to the brain, causing secondary tumours.

Secondary brain tumours are more common than any other type of brain tumour, and occur most commonly in advanced breast cancer in women and in advanced lung cancer in men.

The vast majority (about 85%) of secondary brain tumours are found in the cerebrum with just over 10% in the cerebellum and just less than 5% in the brain stem.

How is a brain tumour diagnosed?

Diagnosing a brain tumour is a very individual process, and your diagnosis at The London Clinic will then be used to develop your personalised treatment plan.

Brain tumours are usually classed as low grade (grades 1 or 2) or high grade (grades 3 or 4). Low grade brain tumours are more benign while high grade brain tumours are malignant and more likely to invade the brain.

How are brain tumours treated?

Neurosurgeons at The London Clinic work in multi-disciplinary teams to carry out biopsies of brain tumours and cysts, and to perform brain surgery to remove benign and malignant tumours that develop within the skull.


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