What is a Malignant Brain Tumor?

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  • Written By: Lori Smith
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 14 May 2019
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A malignant brain tumor is a serious, often life-threatening brain mass that contains rapidly multiplying cancer cells. This type of tumor usually is found within brain tissue or bones of the skull. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential. This aggressive form of cancer can grow very quickly. Despite the seriousness of this type of cancer, the survival rate is as high as 80 percent for patients of some types of malignant brain tumors.

Some forms of cancer that start out in another area of the body metastasize, or spread, to the brain. Unlike many other malignant tumors, one that develops in the brain usually does not spread to other parts of the body. These types of tumors are called "primary tumors." They start with glial cells, called gliomas. There are several types of gliomas that are determined by the type of cancer cells they contain and the location where they originate in the brain.

As the tumor grows, increased pressure on various parts of the brain can cause noticeable symptoms. The presentation of symptoms can vary depending on the size and location of the malignant brain tumor. Memory loss or personality changes often are noticed.


The patient might suddenly become unusually aggressive or markedly depressed. In some cases, sudden changes in speech, hearing loss or vision impairment might become apparent. Seizures or convulsions can occur.

Depending on the location of the tumor within the brain, surgery sometimes can be performed to remove the mass. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy also can be used to reduce the size of the tumor or to eliminate it. It is not uncommon to use more than one treatment method in conjunction with another to increase the chance of successful tumor removal.

The exact cause of malignant brain tumor development is unknown. Men and women of any age, race or ethnicity can develop a malignant brain tumor. The diagnosis of certain types of brain cancer might be more prevalent in specific age groups. Younger children can be equally affected. In fact, brain tumors are the second most common type of cancer detected in children younger than 8 years old.

Certain risk factors increase the chance of developing a malignant brain tumor. For example, men are somewhat more likely to develop a brain tumor than women. Caucasians also are at a higher risk than people of other races. Prolonged exposure to carcinogens such as formaldehyde, vinyl chloride or radiation exposure can increase the possibility of developing a malignant brain tumor.



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