Brain tumours


There are two different types of primary brain tumour; non-cancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant)

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Types of brain tumour


Gliomas start in the glial cells. There are three main types; astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma and ependymoma. The tumour can be a mix of more than one type.


Meningiomas develop in the layers of tissue that surround the brain and spinal cord. They are usually benign and typically grow very slowly.


Craniopharyngiomas generally occur above the pituitary gland. This is found in a small hollow behind the eyes. This pea-sized gland controls many physical and hormonal functions.

Germ cell tumours

Germ cell tumours that develop in the brain are rare, as they typically develop in the ovaries or testicles. They are called extragonadal germ cell tumours.

Pituitary tumours

Pituitary tumours develop in the pituitary gland, which lies in a small hollow just behind the eyes. They are usually benign, meaning they grow slowly and don’t spread.

Uncertain or unknown brain tumours

Sometimes it may be impossible to diagnose a tumour, due either to the complexity of accessing it within the brain or due to the cells it is made up of being unknown.

Secondary tumours

Secondary tumours are cancers that spread to the brain from another part of the body. This is more likely to happen with some types of lung, breast, bowel, kidney and skin cancer.

Tumours grades

  • Tumours are classified by type and grade (how slowly or quickly it grows).

    An outline of the grading is as follows:Grade 1 - Benign tumours, where the cells are only marginally abnormal and tend to grow very slowly
  • Grade 2 - Malignant tumours, where the cells appear abnormal in comparison to unaffected brain cells
  • Grade 3 - Malignant tumours, where the cells are significantly abnormal in appearance and actively growing
  • Grade 4 - Malignant tumours, where the cells are highly abnormal and grow rapidly.

Need to know

Symptoms of a brain tumour can be caused by the tumour itself or by the impact of pressure caused by swelling in the brain. The tumour’s location, or where the pressure occurs, determines the type of symptoms.

Common symptoms of brain tumours include:

  • headaches
  • seizures
  • drowsiness
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • loss of sight or impaired vision

Depending on where the brain tumour occurs you may experience other symptoms.

Whilst there are many other reasons that can cause these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the above.

If your consultant suspects a brain tumour, it is important that diagnostic tests are done quickly to determine the cause of your symptoms. If your symptoms are not related to a brain tumour, we can refer you to our other medical services and can provide quick access to the appropriate specialist. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • full medical examination
  • blood tests with access to advanced pathology laboratories
  • CT / PET CT scan
  • 3T MR/MRI scan

If these tests diagnose a tumour then a second phase of tests will be carried out to establish the type and grade of the tumour and the appropriate treatment. You may require a biopsy and/or surgery. Throughout this process your consultant will keep you up-to-date with the results of each test, explain the results to you and advise on next steps and treatment plans.

At HCA UK we provide a wide range of specialist and advanced treatments. Your consultant will discuss your diagnosis and treatment options with you in detail and help you make an informed decision about your care. Brain tumours are traditionally treated with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, depending on the type and location of the tumour. These treatments may be used in isolation or as part of a combined treatment plan:

  • combination therapy (chemotherapy and radiotherapy)
  • intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
  • immunotherapy
  • clinical trials
Ian Sabin using the iMRI.jpg

State-of-the-art intraoperative MRI for neurosurgery

As part of HCA Healthcare UK’s continued investment in the latest medical technology, The Wellington Hospital’s Neurosurgery Centre is now equipped with an intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (iMRI) scanner and fully integrated digital theatre.

The iMRI scanner allows surgeons to carry out an intraoperative MRI scan of their patient’s brain during their surgery. This gives the surgeon confidence that they have achieved their treatment goal. It also provides our patients with the best possible chance of tumours being removed fully without the need for further surgery.

Our Brain tumours locations

SPECIALIST UNIT  London Neurosurgery Partnership

SPECIALIST UNIT London Neurosurgery Partnership

78 Harley Street W1G 7HJ London
The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
University College Hospital Private Care

University College Hospital Private Care

Grafton Way Building, 1 Grafton Way WC1E 6AG London
The Portland Hospital

The Portland Hospital

205-209 Great Portland Street W1W 5AH London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
Private Care at Guy's

Private Care at Guy's

London Bridge Hospital Private Care at Guy's SE1 9RT London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.