Types of Brain Cancer

When illness strikes, one of the best support tools is knowledge. Brain cancer can take many forms, and a basic awareness of the four stages, as well as common types of brain cancer, gives patients and their families a better grasp of cancer’s physical manifestations.

The four main types of brain cancer include glioma, meningioma, acoustic neuromas, and medulloblastoma.

Glioma tumors are the most common type of brain cancer in adults. This cancer originates in the glial cells that support and protect the brain and can occur in several types of brain cells. Ependymomas tumors develop in the spinal cord, while oligodendroglioma tumors locate themselves in the supporting cells of the brain, often in the cerebrum.  

Meningioma cancers occur in the meninges, or the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord. This type of cancer can originate in any part of the brain but is commonly found in the cerebral hemispheres. Female patients over 65 years of age are most prone to developing meningioma. However, the majority of these tumors are benign and do not always trigger symptoms. This type of cancer grows slowly and can be effectively treated with surgery.

Acoustic neuromas, or vestibular schwannomas, represent a small percentage of brain cancer cases and develop from Schwann cells that line the acoustic and vestibular nerves. Rarely malignant, these tumors grow slowly and often will not spread from their original locations. Malignant tumors are treated with radiation.

Medulloblastoma, most commonly found in children under the age of 10, form in the cerebellum. These rapidly growing tumors can quickly spread to other parts of the brain and are treated with a trifold combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Cancerous tumors follow four stages of development:

Grade I - Pilocytic Astrocytoma

These slow-growing tumors display well-defined borders and grow primarily in the cerebrum, optic nerve pathways, brain stem, and cerebellum.  While this type of brain tumor occurs primarily in children and teens, it accounts for only two percent of all brain tumors (braintumor.org).

Grade II - Low-grade Astrocytoma

Astrocytoma is a type of glioma that grows from the star-shaped cells (astrocytes) that support nerve cells. Grade II tumors grow slowly, display poorly-defined borders, and are common among adults in their 20s to 50s. This type rarely spreads to the rest of the central nervous system.

Grade II I- Anaplastic Astrocytoma

Similar to low-grade astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma also develops from astrocytes but grows faster and more aggressively than grade II tumors. Their cells are not uniform in appearance and invade neighboring tissue. This type of cancer accounts for two percent of all brain tumors (braintumor.org), is more common in men than in women, and affects people in their 30s to 50s.

Grade IV - Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)

Glioblastoma multiforme is classified as a grade IV astrocytoma.  As the most invasive type of glial tumor, GBMs commonly spread to nearby tissue and grow rapidly. Of heterogeneous makeup, the tumor may be composed of several different kinds of cells and may have evolved from low-grade astrocytoma or an oliodendroglioma. This type of cancer commonly occurs in men and women in their 50s to 70s and accounts for 17 percent of all primary brain tumors.

With a basic awareness of the types of brain cancers, patients and their loved ones can come to a better understanding of not only their particular type of tumor but its growth stage and treatments that will produce a successful outcome and a return to normal life.


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