What are the types of brain tumors?

There are many different types of brain tumors, and there are many subtypes of tumors as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) groups brain tumors using two categories. One of the classifications is the origin of the cells that make up the tumor and the other concerns how those cells behave, ranging from least aggressive, also known as benign, to most aggressive, also known as malignant. The rate of growth may also be considered and a grade assigned. These grades range from Grade I, the least malignant, to Grade IV, the most malignant.

Some tumors have more than one name as well and you will rely on your doctors to guide your diagnosis. Here, we have divided the types of tumors between benign and malignant categories.

It is important to remember that all brain tumors are different because they are specific to each person and location in the brain: they grow at different rates, develop from different cells and may require different treatment options to be effective.

Types of Benign Primary Brain Tumors

Chordomas—majority are located at the base of the skull or sacrum (bottom-most part of the spine); most common in people ages 50 to 60; rare and slow growing; can invade adjacent bone and put pressure on nearby neural tissue

Craniopharyngiomas—usually arise from the pituitary gland; because of location near critical structures deep in the brain; difficult to remove

Gangliocytomas—rare tumors that include neoplastic nerve cells; occur primarily in young adults; relatively well-differentiated

Glomus jugulare—located just under the skull at the top of the jugular vein; most common form of glomus tumors; usually benign; very vascular type of tumor; care should be taken that a patient is not rushed to a biopsy if this tumor type is suspected

Meningiomas—originate from the meninges; one of the most common intracranial tumors; common age at presentation is in 40-50s but can occur at any age; twice as common in women; most are benign but a small percentage of these tumors can be malignant

Pineocytomas—arise from the pineal cells; occur predominantly in adults; generally benign; usually well-defined, non-invasive, homogeneous and slow growing

Pituitary adenomas—adenomas are most common disease affecting the pituitary gland; most commonly affect people in their 30s and 40s; fairly slow-growing; even malignant pituitary tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body; most can be treated successfully

Schwannomas—arise along nerves; comprised of cells that normally provide ‘electrical insulation’ for nerve cells; acoustic neuromas are the most common intracranial schwannoma, arising from eighth cranial nerve, or vestibulo-cochlear nerve; common benign brain tumors in adults; often displace the remainder of the normal nerve instead of invading it; although benign, can cause serious complications and even death if they grow and exert pressure on nerves and eventually on the brainstem; also known as vestibular schwannoma or neurilemmoma

Types of Malignant Primary Brain Tumors

Gliomas—arise from supporting cells of the brain, called the glia; most common type of malignant adult brain tumor; account for majority of malignant brain tumors; glial cells are subdivided into those of astrocytic, ependymal, oligodendroglial, or mixed origin

Glial tumors include the following:

Astrocytomas—develop from star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes, part of the supportive tissue of the brain; may occur in many parts of the brain, but most commonly in the cerebrum; most common glioma, accounting for about half of all primary malignant brain tumors; people of all ages can develop astrocytomas, but they are more prevalent in adults—astrocytomas in the base of the brain are more prevalent in children or younger people; in children, called juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA), most of these tumors are considered low-grade, while in adults, most are high-grade; adult tumors are also WHO graded into low grade astrocytoma and anaplastic astrocytoma

  • Brain Stem Gliomas—located at base of brain; range from low to high grade; occur most often in children between three and ten years old but can also occur in adults
  • CNS Lymphoma— usually (but not always) manifests as multiple tumors throughout the central nervous system (CNS); most common between ages of 60-80; very aggressive
  • Ependymomas—derived from neoplastic transformation of the ependymal cells lining the ventricular system; usually located in the fourth and lateral ventricles; account for two to three percent of all brain tumors; most are well-defined, but some are not; variation on this is subependymoma which is slow growing
  • Glioblastoma Multiforme—may be composed of several different kinds of cells, such as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes; more common in people ages 50 to 70; tend to grow rapidly, spread to other tissue and have a poor prognosis; most invasive type of glial tumor
  • Medulloblastomas—usually arise in cerebellum; occur more frequently in children; considered high grade, but are usually responsive to radiation and chemotherapy
  • Oligodendrogliomas—derived from the cells that make myelin, the insulation for the wiring of the brain; most common in 20-40s
  • Optic Nerve Glioma—located near nerve pathways between eyes and brain; most often occurs in infants and children but can occur in adults; can range from low to high grade
  • Pineoblastoma—located near pineal gland; occurs most often in children and young adults; can range from low to high grade
  • Primitive Neuroectodermal (PNET)—grown from undeveloped brain cells; several types of tumors in this category including pineoblastoma, medulloblastoma, and cerebral cortex PNET; spread through central nervous system; tend to be large; highly aggressive

Other Types of Brain Tumors

Metastatic Brain Tumors—secondary brain tumor; common among middle-aged and elderly; begins as cancer somewhere else in the body; carried to brain by blood stream or by extension from adjacent involved tissues

Hemangioblastomas—slow-growing; most common in people ages 40 to 60; commonly located in the cerebellum; originate from blood vessels; can be large in size and often accompanied by a cyst

Rhabdoid Tumors—rare; highly aggressive; tend to spread throughout the central nervous system; often appear in multiple sites in the body, especially in kidneys; more prevalent in young children, but also can occur in adults