Benign and Cancerous Brain Tumors

Brain and spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells that have grown out of control. Although brain tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body, most of them can spread through the brain tissue. Even benign (non-cancerous) tumors can destroy and compress normal brain tissue, causing damage that is often disabling and sometimes fatal.

The American Brain Tumor Association, using data from 2015, estimates that nearly 78,000 new cases of primary brain tumors are expected to be diagnosed each year in the US. This includes nearly 25,000 primary malignant and 53,000 non-malignant (non-cancerous) brain tumors.


Tumors in any part of the brain may cause the pressure inside the skull to rise. This can be caused by growth of the tumor itself, swelling in the brain, or blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Increased pressure can lead to one or more of the following:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Balance problems
  • Personality or behavior changes
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness or coma

Headaches are a common symptom of a brain tumor, occurring in about half of patients. Be assured, however, that most headaches are not caused by tumors.

Tumor Location

Brain and spinal cord tumors often cause problems with the specific functions of the region in which they develop. For example:

  • Tumors in the outer part of the brain that controls movement or sensation may cause weakness or numbness of the body.
  • Tumors in or near the parts of the cerebrum, which is responsible for language, may cause problems with speech or understanding words.
  • Tumors in the front part of the cerebrum can sometimes affect thinking and personality.
  • Tumors in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia typically cause abnormal movements and positioning of the body.
  • If the tumor is in the cerebellum, which controls coordination, a person might have trouble walking or eating.
  • Tumors in the back part of the cerebrum, or around the pituitary gland, the optic nerve, or other areas near cranial nerves can cause vision problems.
  • Tumors in or near cranial nerves may cause loss of hearing, balance problems, weakness of some facial muscles or trouble swallowing.

Diagnosing Brain Tumors

When diagnosing a brain tumor, physicians will ask questions about symptoms and personal and family health history. A physical exam is performed, which includes a neurological exam. If a tumor is suspected, the physician may order a CT scan or MRI to see detailed images or the brain. He or she may also request a magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA), which is a type of scan that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to provide pictures of blood vessels in the brain.

Specialists in our Spine and Neurosurgery Program can help determine the correct course of treatment if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with brain tumor, if you need diagnostic assistance or if you require a second opinion.

To find a brain tumor expert affiliated with Centennial Hills Hospital Medical Center, contact our free physician referral service at 702-388-4888.