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Brain tumours

Every year, 13,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with brain tumours. The Brain Research Trust has funded a number of projects and researchers over the years investigating the causes of brain tumours and the best way to treat them. The long-term strategy of the Brain Research Trust and IoN is to expand the research considerably.

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About brain tumours

A brain tumour is an abnormal growth of cells within the brain and is usually graded from 1 to 4, indicating the degree of malignancy. Benign tumours grow slowly and rarely spread, and are usually classified as grade 1 or 2. Malignant brain tumours can grow rapidly and attack structures in the brain and are usually graded as 3 or 4. There are some areas between grades 2 and 3 which can be difficult to distinguish.

As yet, we do not know why brain tumours occur. Neither do we know why some brain tumours are benign and others malignant. Whereas smoking is implicated as a cause of lung cancer, no risk factors have yet been identified as contributing to the development of a brain tumour. Therefore nothing can be done to adjust one's lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing this type of cancer.

Recent advances in brain research suggest that a particular type of cells in the brain (stem cells)- may be one of the origins of brain tumours. Like in other organs, also the adult brain contains stem cells, which are thought to replenish nerve cells. Cell divisions may become out of control and may cause brain cancer.

Forty per cent of tumours diagnosed are primary tumours i.e. tumours that start in the brain. In addition, 20% of all cancer patients go on to develop a secondary tumour (metastasis) in the brain. Brain tumours are the second most common cause of cancer mortality in adults.

Brain tumours also hit children particularly hard. They are the most common solid tumour in children. Of those children diagnosed with a brain tumour only 20% survive 5 years beyond diagnosis - a higher mortality rate than that of meningitis.

For more in-depth information about symptoms, causes and treatments, please visit the NHS website.