The neurologists and neurosurgeons at Torrance Memorial Medical Center offer expert diagnosis and care for all types of brain tumors. Our affiliation with the neurology team at Cedars Sinai — which is ranked among the best in the nation for neurology care by U.S. News & World Report — means that our patients have access to the most advanced treatment options.

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is a growth or mass of abnormal cells in your brain. About 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with brain tumors each year. Symptoms and treatments of a brain tumor depend on the tumor’s location in your brain, rate of growth, and the tumor type.

Types of Brain Tumors

There are many different types of brain tumors. The most common categories include:

  • Benign tumor. A benign tumor is noncancerous and does not spread to other parts of your body or invade surrounding tissue. Even though a benign brain tumor does not spread, it may still cause symptoms or be life-threatening.

  • Malignant tumor. A malignant tumor is cancerous and may spread to other parts of your brain or body.

  • Primary tumor. A primary brain tumor originates in your brain and is made of abnormal brain cells. A primary brain tumor may be benign or malignant.

  • Secondary tumor. A secondary brain tumor is made of abnormal cells from a malignant primary tumor elsewhere in your body.

Most brain tumors are secondary, or metastatic, which means that they originate from elsewhere in the body. Some of the most common types of metastatic brain tumors include lung, breast, and melanoma.

Primary brain tumors are classified by the type of tissue making up the tumor. Primary brain tumors include:

  • Gliomas. Gliomas are the most common type of primary brain tumor. Gliomas originate from glial tissue, which is the supportive tissue in your brain. There are many different types of gliomas, and they can be benign or malignant.

  • Meningiomas. Meningiomas are a type of brain tumor that begins from the meninges, or the protective layers of tissue that surround the brain and spinal column. Most meningiomas are benign and grow slowly, but they may still cause symptoms. Women between the ages of 30 and 50 are most prone to developing meningiomas.

  • Schwannomas. Schwannomas are a type of usually benign brain tumor that originates from the Schwann cells, which are an important part of your nervous system. Women are affected by schwannomas twice as often as men. The most common type of schwannoma is the acoustic neuroma, which can affect your hearing and balance.

  • Craniopharyngiomas. Craniopharyngiomas are a type of usually benign brain tumor that originates from the area around your pituitary gland or hypothalamus. This type of tumor is most common in children or adolescents.

  • Germinomas. Germinomas are a type of tumor that originates from germ cells, or cells that usually migrate to the gonads and develop into sex cells. When germ cells do not migrate to the gonads, they may begin to divide in the brain and form brain tumors.

  • Pineal region tumors. Pineal region tumors may form around the pineal gland in your brain. This type of tumor is usually benign, but is difficult to reach because of its location and may still cause symptoms.

Symptoms

Symptoms of brain tumors vary depending on the location and type of brain tumor. General symptoms of a brain tumor include:

  • Changes in the pattern of existing headaches, or a new type of headache
  • Headaches that increase in severity or frequency over time
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulties with vision, including blurred vision, double vision, or narrowed vision
  • Gradual loss of sensation or mobility in limbs
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Problems with speech
  • Confusion
  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty with hearing
  • Changes in perception of the senses
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, or difficulty sleeping

Causes and Risk Factors

Although secondary brain tumors are caused by cancer elsewhere in your body, the causes and risk factors of primary brain tumors are often unclear. However, known risk factors for primary brain tumors include:

  • A family history of brain tumor
  • Exposure to radiation

Diagnosis

There are many different ways to diagnose a brain tumor, and your doctor will use the most appropriate methods depending on the suspected type of the tumor, your signs and symptoms, results of previous medical tests, and your general medical condition.

Methods for diagnosing a brain tumor include:

  • Neurological exam. This is the least invasive and usually the first test for a brain tumor. A neurological exam typically includes your doctor looking for abnormalities in your senses, balance, strength, coordination, and reflexes.

  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests such as a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) take highly detailed pictures of your brain to find abnormalities, including a brain tumor.

  • Biopsy. A biopsy involves collecting a sample of tumor tissue and testing it to determine if the tumor is cancerous or benign. Some biopsies are done as part of the surgery to remove a tumor, but brain tumor biopsy can be performed using a stereotactic needle guided by an MRI or CT scan.

  • Testing for primary tumors. If your doctor suspects you may have a secondary brain tumor, he or she may test for primary tumors elsewhere in your body.

Treatment

When presenting treatment options for a brain tumor, your doctor will consider the type of the tumor, your signs and symptoms, and your general medical condition.

Treatments for brain tumors include:

  • Surgery. Surgery involves physically removing a portion of your brain tumor or, if possible, your entire brain tumor, along with a portion of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. Surgery for removing a brain tumor depends on the location, size, and how difficult it will be to separate the tumor from the surrounding tissue. Risks of surgery include bleeding, infection, and brain damage depending on where the tumor is located.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy involves using radiation such as x-rays or proton beams to kill the cells of your brain tumor. Radiation therapy can be done using a machine outside of your body or, more rarely, a machine placed inside your body near the site of your brain tumor. Radiation therapy can also be focused on a specific area of your brain where your tumor is located or can target your whole brain to kill and prevent the formation of secondary tumors.

  • Radiosurgery. Also known as stereotactic surgery, radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy that involves using targeted beams of radiation to kill brain tumor cells. Most radiosurgery is done in one treatment, and most patients can go home afterward.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill tumor cells, which may be delivered orally or intravenously.

  • Targeted drug therapy. This treatment involves using drugs developed to target the specific abnormalities in the genetic makeup, proteins, or tissue environment of your brain tumor that allow your brain tumor to grow and survive. When these abnormalities are prevented by targeted drug therapy, your brain tumor will die.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment that involves using your immune system to fight cancer. Sometimes, immunotherapy may be used to treat secondary brain tumors.