Types of Noncancerous Brain Tumors

A noncancerous brain tumor is an unexpected cluster of abnormal cells in the brain. Most grow slowly. They can't spread to other parts of your body the way cancerous tumors do. But they can grow large enough to cause symptoms.

Your doctor may call it a benign tumor.

There are many kinds of noncancerous tumors. Each affects a different type of brain cell.

Even though they're noncancerous, it's important that you continue to follow up with your doctor. In rare cases, these tumors can become cancerous.

Meningioma

This is the most common kind of brain tumor. About one-third of them are this type.

Meningioma starts in the meninges -- the protective cover around your brain and spinal cord.

Women are twice as likely as men to get meningioma. You may be more likely to get this tumor if you:

Most meningiomas don't cause symptoms until they get bigger. Then they can cause:

Schwannoma

These get their name from the cells where they start. Schwann cells surround nerve cells in the brain.

The most common type of schwannoma is vestibular schwannoma, which your doctor may call acoustic neuroma. It affects the vestibular nerve. That travels from your inner ear to your brain and helps you keep your balance.

People with NF2 are more likely to get schwannomas. Women are twice as likely as men to get them.

Symptoms of schwannoma include:

Pituitary Adenomas

These tumors start in the gland at the base of the brain that makes hormones, called the pituitary. The pituitary also directs other glands in your body to make their hormones.

Pituitary adenomas are common. Up to 1 in 5 adults have tiny tumors in their pituitary gland. Most of these tumors never grow or cause problems.

Women get these more often than men. Anyone can get these tumors, but people with the inherited disease multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) are more likely to get them.

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Some pituitary adenomas produce hormones. These are called functional tumors.

Which symptoms you have depend on whether the tumor makes hormones, and which ones it makes:

If it creates:

Prolactin , and you're a woman, you may miss menstrual periods, or they may stop all together. Men may notice breast enlargement.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), you'll probably have symptoms of something called Cushing's disease. These can include weight gain, easy bruising, and weakness.

Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), it can bring hyperthyroidism symptoms like weight loss, nervousness, and sweating.

Other symptoms of these tumors include:

Hemangioblastomas

These start in blood vessels. They can form in the brain, spinal cord, or the back of your eye (retina).

These tumors sometimes affect people with the genetic disease Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome.

Symptoms include:

Craniopharyngioma

This type starts from cells at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland. It's most common in children and in people older than 45.

When a craniopharyngioma grows, it can cause symptoms like:

Glioma

Gliomas grow in glial cells, which surround and support nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord.

These tumors affect both children and adults. But they're more common in adults. Men are slightly more likely to get a glioma than women.

People with inherited diseases like NF1 or tuberous sclerosis are more likely to get them.

Gliomas come in a few different grades, based on how much (or how little) they look like normal cells and how rapidly they grow:

  • Grade I: These cells look almost normal. They grow very slowly.
  • Grade II: A bit of abnormality sets in. They can return after treatment as a higher grade.
  • Grade III: The cells quickly reproduce and are more aggressive than the first two grades.
  • Grade IV: These cells look nothing like normal cells. They're very aggressive and grow very quickly.

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How Doctors Diagnose These Tumors

Your doctor will ask whether you've had brain tumor symptoms like seizures, headaches, or nausea. You may need one or more of these tests:

CT, or computed tomography: A powerful X-ray makes detailed pictures of your brain.

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging: Powerful magnets and radio waves make pictures of your brain.

Biopsy: This test removes a small amount of cells from the tumor. Your sample is checked under a microscope to see if it has cancer cells.

Lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap): This may be done to check for abnormal cells in the spinal fluid.

Blood and urine tests: You may have these to look for hormones and other substances that tumors release in your body. Your doctor could use these to check how well your organs are working, too.

How They're Treated

Small tumors may not need treatment. Your doctor will check you regularly with CT or MRI scans to see if the tumor grows.

Bigger tumors are removed with surgery. Your surgeon will try to take out as much of the tumor as possible.

Radiation is another treatment. It uses high-energy X-rays to shrink tumors. Doctors use radiation on tumors when they:

  • Can't be fully removed with surgery
  • Come back after surgery

A type of radiation treatment called stereotactic radiosurgery is an option for some brain tumors. It aims high doses of radiation directly at your tumor to avoid harming nearby tissues.

Your doctor will discuss all of your treatment options with you, and help you decide on a plan that is best for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 12, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Association of Neurological Surgeons: "Meningiomas."

American Brain Tumor Association: "Craniopharyngioma," "Meningioma," "Schwannoma."

American Cancer Society: “Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults,” “Pituitary Tumors.”

Cancer Research UK: "Schwannoma."

Cleveland Clinic: "Pituitary Adenoma."

Columbia Neurosurgery: "Causes and Risk Factors of Gliomas."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gliomas," "Meningioma Treatment," "Pituitary Tumors."

National Health Service: "Benign brain tumour (non-cancerous)."

National Comprehensive Cancer Network: "NCCN Guidelines for Patients: Brain Cancer -- Gliomas."

The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York: "Hemangioblastoma."

UCLA Health: "Craniopharyngioma," "Hemangioblastomas," "Pituitary Adenomas."

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