Brain tumour, benign (non-cancerous)

Information about benign (non-cancerous) brain tumours, including types of tumour, when to see your GP, causes, treatment, and recovery.

A benign (non-cancerous) brain tumour is a mass of cells that grows relatively slowly in the brain.

Non-cancerous brain tumours tend to stay in one place and don't spread. It won't usually come back if all of the tumour can be safely removed during surgery.

If the tumour can't be completely removed, there's a risk it could grow back. In this case it'll be closely monitored using scans or treated with radiotherapy.

This page covers: 

Types and grades

Symptoms

When to see your GP

Causes

Treatment

Recovery

Read more about malignant (cancerous) brain tumours.

Types and grades of non-cancerous brain tumour

There are many different types of non-cancerous brain tumours, which are related to the type of brain cells affected.

Examples include:

  • gliomas – tumours of the glial tissue, which hold and support nerve cells and fibres
  • meningiomas – tumours of the membranes that cover the brain
  • acoustic neuromas – tumours of the acoustic nerve (also known as vestibular schwannomas)
  • craniopharyngiomas – tumours near the base of the brain that are most often diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults
  • haemangioblastomas  tumours of the brain's blood vessels
  • pituitary adenomas – tumours of the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland on the under surface of the brain

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the different types of brain tumours.

Brain tumours are graded from one to four according to how fast they grow and spread, and how likely they are to grow back after treatment.

Non-cancerous brain tumours are grades one or two because they tend to be slow growing and unlikely to spread.

They aren't cancerous and can often be successfully treated, but they're still serious and can be life threatening.

Symptoms of non-cancerous brain tumours

The symptoms of a non-cancerous brain tumour depend on how big it is and where it is in the brain. Some slow-growing tumours may not cause any symptoms at first.

Common symptoms include:

  • new, persistent headaches
  • seizures (epileptic fits)
  • persistent nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
  • mental or behavioural changes, such as changes in personality
  • weakness or paralysis, vision problems, or speech problems

Read more about the symptoms of non-cancerous brain tumours.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have any of the above symptoms. While it's unlikely to be a brain tumour, these symptoms need to be assessed by a doctor.

Your GP will examine you and ask about your symptoms. They may also test your nervous system.

If your GP thinks you may have a brain tumour or they're not sure what's causing your symptoms, they'll refer you to a brain and nerve specialist called a neurologist. 

Read more about diagnosing non-cancerous brain tumours.

Causes of non-cancerous brain tumours

The cause of most non-cancerous brain tumours is unknown, but you're more likely to develop one if:

  • you're over the age of 50
  • you have a family history of brain tumours
  • you have a genetic condition that increases your risk of developing a non-cancerous brain tumour – such as neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2, tuberous sclerosis, Turcot syndrome, Li-Fraumeni cancer syndrome, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, and Gorlin syndrome
  • you've had radiotherapy

Can mobile phones cause brain tumours?

Current evidence suggests mobile phones don't cause health problems such as brain tumours.

Read about mobile phone safety.

Treating non-cancerous brain tumours

Treatment for a non-cancerous brain tumour depends on the type and location of the tumour.

Surgery is used to remove most non-cancerous brain tumours, and they don't usually come back after being removed. But sometimes tumours do grow back or become cancerous.

If all of the tumour can't be removed, other treatments, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, may be needed to control the growth of the remaining abnormal cells.

Read more about treating a non-cancerous brain tumour

Recovering from treatment for a non-cancerous brain tumour

After treatment, you may have persistent problems, such as seizures and difficulties with speech and walking. You may need supportive treatment to help you recover from, or adapt to, these problems.

Many people are eventually able to resume their normal activities, including work and sport, but it can take time.

You may find it useful to speak to a counsellor if you want to talk about the emotional aspects of your diagnosis and treatment.

The Brain Tumour Charity has links to support groups in the UK, and Brain Tumour Research also has details of helplines you can contact.

Read more about recovering from treatment for a non-cancerous brain tumour.

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