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It is estimated that in 2005, over 12,000 people died of brain cancer. This type of cancer is characterized by the growth of cancer tissue within the skull. There are several types of brain cancer, such as primary, secondary, and malignant. Common symptoms of the condition include headaches, vomiting, and changes in speech. In general, treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

What Is Brain Cancer?

Brain tumors are a diverse group of diseases characterized by the abnormal growth of tissue contained within the skull. Brain tumors can be benign (without cancer cells) or malignant (contains cancer cells). Other than leukemia and lymphoma, brain tumors are the most common type of cancer that occurs in children. In adults, brain tumors are usually the result of cancer that has spread from another part of the body, such as the breast or lungs. (Brain tumors and brain cancer are used interchangeably in this article to mean the same thing.)

Understanding the Brain

The brain is a soft, spongy mass of tissue that is protected by the bones of the skull and three thin membranes called meninges. Watery fluid called cerebrospinal fluid cushions the brain and flows through spaces between the meninges and the ventricles (spaces within the brain).
A network of nerves carries messages back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. While some nerves go directly from the brain to the eyes, ears, and other parts of the head, other nerves run through the spinal cord to connect the brain with the other parts of the body. Within the brain and spinal cord, glial cells surround nerve cells and hold them in place.
The brain directs the things we choose to do (like walking and talking) and the things our body does without thinking (like breathing). The brain is also in charge of our senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), memory, emotions, and personality. The three major parts of the brain include the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brain stem. Each area controls different activities.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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