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Primary Versus Secondary Types of Brain Tumors

Brain tumors that begin in brain tissue are known as primary brain tumors. These tumors are named according to the type of cells or the part of the brain in which they begin. Secondary brain tumors begin in another part of the body. When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor will have the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. Cancer that spreads to the brain from another part of the body is different from a primary brain tumor. When cancer cells spread to the brain from another organ (such as the lung or breast), doctors may call the tumor in the brain a secondary brain tumor or metastatic tumor. Secondary tumors in the brain are far more common than primary brain tumors.
 
Primary Types
The most common primary brain tumors are gliomas, which begin in glial cells. There are many types of gliomas, including:
 
  • Astrocytoma
  • Brain stem glioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Oligodendroglioma
  • Mixed glioma.
     
When people say "brain cancer," they usually are referring to a glioma.
 
Astrocytoma
An astrocytoma is a tumor that arises from star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes. In adults, this brain tumor type most often arises in the cerebrum. In children, they occur in the brain stem, the cerebrum, and the cerebellum. A grade III astrocytoma is sometimes called an anaplastic astrocytoma. A grade IV astrocytoma is usually called a glioblastoma multiforme.
 
Brain Stem Glioma
A brain stem glioma is a tumor that occurs in the lowest part of the brain, called the brain stem. This type of brain tumor is usually diagnosed in young children and middle-aged adults. Brain stem gliomas are usually high-grade. Those that are high-grade or that spread widely throughout the brain stem are difficult to treat successfully. In order to prevent damage to healthy brain tissue, a brain stem glioma is usually diagnosed without a biopsy.
 
(Click Brain Stem Glioma for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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