Brain Cancer

What is brain cancer?

Brain cancer refers to an abnormal growth of cells in the brain which form a tumour. Tumours can start in the brain, or can develop from cancer that has spread from other parts of the body.

Primary brain tumours can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant.

  • benign: grow slowly and unlikely to spread to other parts of the body
  • malignant: cancerous tumour that grows rapidly and may invade other body parts

A brain tumour is usually diagnosed by conducting a number of tests, including a CT scan and an MRI.1

Signs and symptoms of brain cancer

The signs and symptoms of brain cancer can depend where in the brain the tumour is located, and may include: 2

  • Headaches that recur and intensify, especially in the morning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures or fits
  • Unexplained drowsiness​
  • Double vision, blurring or trouble seeing properly
  • Increasing difficulty with speech and hearing
  • Growing weakness in the limbs
  • Problems with hearing, balance and coordination
  • Marked changes in memory, concentration or alertness

Grading brain cancer

Tumours of the brain and spinal cord are usually given a grading number between 1 and 4 (I-IV) which determines its’ characteristics.5 Because brain and spinal cord cancers typically don’t spread to other areas of the body, a grading system, instead of the more common cancer staging system is used.5

  • Grades 1 and 2– tend to be slow growing tumours and are often benign (non-cancerous).
  • Grades 3 and 4– are faster growing tumours and tend to be cancerous.


Frequently asked questions

What causes brain tumours?

It’s not known what causes tumours in the brain or spinal cord, however risk factors that are believed to influence the development of brain tumours include: 3

  • Impaired immune function – can result in an increased risk of primary CNS lymphoma (cancer of the lymphocytes of the spinal cord and brain). Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell which is responsible for protecting the body from infection and disease.3 Impaired immune function can result from a virus, such as AIDs, or from organ transplants, however CNS Lymphoma is increasingly seen in people with healthy immune systems as well. 4
  • Genetic predisposition – in some cases of brain and spinal cord cancers there is a family link, although it is rare.3
  • Exposure to radiation – the development of brain tumours from radiation exposure is quite rare, and is most often seen in people who have had radiation to their head to treat other types of cancers, such as in children who are treated for leukemia.3
Does brain cancer and its’ treatment affect your ability to drive?

Brain cancer and treatment can affect your sight, coordination, ability to think and carry-out critical functions needed for safe driving.10 It’s important you discuss your cancer diagnosis and treatments with your specialist team, who will be able to assess and advise you on your medical fitness to drive.


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