Neurological conditions /

Brain tumours

Brain tumours kill more people under the age of 40 than any other cancer. They kill more children in the UK than any other disease. This is why we have made research into brain tumours one of our three research priorities.

What is a brain tumour? 

Tumours that start in the brain are called primary brain tumours. These are different to cancers that have spread to the brain from elsewhere in the body, which are called secondary brain tumours or brain metastases.

Brain tumours are graded from 1 to 4, according to how they look under the microscope, how fast they are likely to grow, and how likely they are to spread.

High grade (3 and 4) tumours are likely to be more aggressive, growing rapidly and spreading into surrounding brain tissue. These tumours are classed as malignant and account for around half of all diagnosed brain tumours.

Low grade (1 and 2) tumours are slow-growing and do not spread beyond the part of the brain in which they started. These tumours are classed as benign. Unlike benign tumours in other parts of the body, benign brain tumours can be life-threatening.

Types of brain tumour

There are more than 130 different types of brain tumour, most of which are very rare. They are usually named after the type of cell from which they develop and/or the area of the brain in which they are growing.

Most commonly, brain tumours develop from the glial cells that support the nerve cells of the brain. A tumour of glial cells is called a glioma.

The most common type of glioma is glioblastoma (also called glioblastoma multiforme, GBM). Glioblastoma is the most common malignant primary brain tumour, accounting for more than one in five brain tumour diagnoses. It is also one of the most aggressive tumours. It has a devastating impact – there is no cure and most patients die within one year of diagnosis.

Who is affected? 

Every year in the UK, around 12,300 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Brain tumours, like most other cancers, get more common as people age. But - in contrast to most other cancer types - brain tumours also occur relatively frequently at younger ages. They are the second most common type of cancer in children.

The impact of brain tumours

There are around 5,500 deaths due to brain tumours every year in the UK, more than 100 deaths every week.

But just as important is the toll on those who survive, or who are living with brain tumours. The brain is the most important and complex of our organs and a tumour can cause huge, irreversible damage. And treatment that may be life-saving can cause devastating collateral damage. This is particularly pertinent in children, whose brains are still developing and who must carry the burden of any disabilities and health problems through their whole lives.

James, pictured above left, was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of five. His tumour was low-grade, but caused relentless seizures. After a number of years of 'watch and wait' doctors decided that the damage being caused by the seizures now tipped the balance in favour of surgery to remove the tumour. You can read James's story here.

Our research into brain tumours

Research into brain tumours is one of Brain Research UK's three priority research areas.

This reflects a large unmet patient need, coupled with a lack of sufficient research investment from other sources.

We want to improve the outlook for people with brain tumours by funding research that takes forward our understanding of the mechanisms underlying tumour development and helps develop better ways to diagnose and treat these tumours - so that people can live better longer.

We are currently funding the following projects: