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
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