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Brain cancer

Brain cancers include primary brain tumours, which start in the brain and almost never spread to other parts of the body.

Secondary tumours (or metastases) may occur in the brain, which are caused by cancers that began in another part of the body and spread.

Brain tumours are grouped into two main types:

  • benign - slow-growing and unlikely to spread.
  • malignant - cancerous and able to spread into other parts of the brain or spinal cord.

Have I got any signs of brain cancer?

  • headaches (may be worse in the morning)
  • seizures
  • weakness or paralysis in part of the body
  • loss of balance
  • general irritability, drowsiness or a change in personality
  • nausea and vomiting
  • disturbed vision, hearing, smell or taste.

Am I at risk of brain cancer?

The exact cause of brain cancer is unknown.

  • some brain and spinal cord tumours are more common in people with certain inherited or genetic conditions
  • people exposed to very high doses of radiation to the head.
  • previous diagnosis of another cancer which may have caused the spread of the cancer to the brain.  The cancers that most commonly spread or metastasize to the brain are
    • lung cancer
    • breast cancer
    • kidney cancer
    • bladder cancer
    • melanoma

How will I get tested?

Your GP will perform a physical examination and request some tests.

The main tests for brain cancer diagnosis are:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • MRS (magnetic resonance spectroscopy)
  • PET scan
  • SPECT (single proton emission computerised tomography)
  • Lumbar puncture

My results are positive...what happens next?

Your GP will refer you to a surgeon or a Medical Oncologist.

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Symptom management
Last updated: 3 June 2021