May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and each year in the U.S., the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) estimates there are 62,000 new cases of primary brain tumors diagnosed.
There are more than 100 types of primary brain tumors, but not all of these tumors are cancerous.
To help you learn more about brain cancer, here is an overview of some of the types of brain tumors and their causes in recognition of Brain Tumor Awareness Month and its gray cancer ribbon color.
Brain Tumor Types
There are two types of brain tumors: benign and malignant.
Benign tumors are not cancerous, but if they’re not removed, they can start pressing against the brain and causing problems in other areas of the body.
Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells, which destroy healthy tissue and eventually spread from the brain to other organs (metastasize).
Tumors can be organized by the type of brain cell they affect (lymphoma, astrocytoma, etc.) or by their location in the brain. Tumors that start in the brain are called primary brain tumors, while tumors that spread to the brain from other areas of the body are called metastatic or secondary brain tumors.
Brain cancer is a relatively rare disease. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that about 23,000 people are diagnosed each year. Fortunately, about half of all brain tumors are benign, grow slowly and respond well to medical treatment.
Here are five types of brain tumors – some cancerous, some non-cancerous.
Glioma: This is a common type of primary brain tumor, originating in the glial tissue that surrounds neurons. Gliomas attack the ependymal cells, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes in the brain, and are given a “low” or “high” grade according to their size and aggressiveness. John Hopkins Medicine estimates that about 1/3 of all brain tumors are some type of glioma.
Meningioma: The Mayo Clinic defines meningioma as tumors that attack the meninges, which is the area of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. They are usually benign, but not always. This type of brain tumor is most frequent in older women, though men and children may also be diagnosed.
Pituitary Adenoma. According to John Hopkins Medicine, it is said that about 10% of people will develop a pituitary adenoma (benign pituitary gland tumor) during their lifetime. Sometimes, these small non-cancerous tumors never cause a problem. And, at other times, they can secrete excessive hormones and cause a hormonal imbalance.
Acoustic Neuroma. The Mayo Clinic defines these as a non-cancerous, slow-growing tumor that attacks the nerves of the inner ear, which can cause difficulties in hearing, balance and facial sensations. If this tumor is not removed, it may eventually press into the brain and can be fatal.
Medulloblastoma. A fast-growing, malignant brain tumor that attacks the cerebellum – the lower rear area of the brain. Medulloblastomas are rare and account for less than 2% of total primary brain tumors, according to the ABTA. This type of brain tumor is most common in children under age 10.
Brain Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
Primary brain tumors are typically triggered by genetic mutations, and doctors are still exploring the source of these mutations.
We don’t always know what causes brain cancer, but doctors do know some of the risk factors that correlate with cancer cases.
Age: The older you get, the more likely you are to contract a brain tumor. They’re most frequent in older adults – but children can get them, too. (And, cancers like medulloblastoma are much more common in children.)
Radiation exposure: If you’ve been exposed to ionizing radiation – the type of radiation found in cancer treatments and atomic waste exposure – you have a much higher chance of developing brain cancer. However, non-ionizing radiation (the type of radiation found in common household devices like microwaves, WiFi routers and cell phones) has not been linked to brain tumors and causes no known damage.
Family brain tumor history: According to the Mayo Clinic, your chances increase slightly if you have a family member with a history of brain tumors.
To learn more about the types of brain tumors, causes of brain cancer and statistics, visit the NCI’s ‘Brain Tumor’ web page.
Please talk to us in the comments below. What are you doing to learn more about brain tumors and raise awareness about brain cancer in May?
(Images via Online Cancer Guide and KEPR-TV.)