Benign (Non-Cancerous) Brain Tumors
Brain tumors occur when cells in your brain begin to grow out of control. Brain tumors can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Most benign tumors grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body. As a benign brain tumor grows, it will cause symptoms.
Your brain is locked into place by the skull. Any size tumor growing near or inside it causes pressure on the brain. This is not safe. This pressure causes symptoms and can be life-threatening in some cases. Benign brain tumors are treated to stop this pressure and the symptoms it is causing.
What are the types of benign brain tumors?
There are many types of benign brain tumors. You will have imaging tests and likely a biopsy to find out what kind of tumor you have. Some types of benign brain tumors are:
- Meningioma: These tumors are in the meninges, which is the protective cover around your brain and spinal cord. These are the most common type of brain tumors.
- Schwannoma: These tumors start in Schwann cells which surround nerve cells outside of the brain and spinal cord. Vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) is the most common type and involves the vestibular nerve (part of the inner ear).
- Pituitary adenoma: Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors of the pituitary gland which is found at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland makes hormones and affects other hormone-producing glands.
- Hemangioblastoma: These tumors occur in the blood vessels supplying the central nervous system including the brain, spine, and sometimes can affect the retina (in the eye). These tumors happen more often in those with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome.
- Craniopharyngioma: These tumors make up 10-15% of benign brain tumors. They grow near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. They happen more often in children and teens but can happen in adults.
- Glioma: These tumors start in the glial cells in the brain. A glioma can be malignant or benign. Gliomas are “graded” from 1 to 4 with 4 being the most aggressive. Grades 1 and 2 are usually benign gliomas.
What are the signs of benign brain tumors?
Signs and symptoms of benign brain tumors depend on your type of brain tumor and where it is found in your brain. Some common symptoms can include:
- Vision or hearing changes.
- Trouble thinking/concentrating.
- Loss of coordination/balance (trouble walking).
- Feeling weak.
- Changes in mood.
What treatments are used for benign brain tumors?
Treatment for your benign brain tumor will depend on the type of tumor, where it is, how big it is, your age, and if the tumor is causing symptoms. The most common treatments for benign brain tumors are surgery and radiation.
- Surgery – In most cases, surgery is used to treat your benign brain tumor. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible without hurting any healthy brain tissue. In some cases, only part of the tumor can be safely removed.
- Radiation – If none or only part of the tumor can be removed with surgery then radiation is often used. Radiation may be used if the tumor comes back after surgery.
- Your provider may not suggest treatment if your tumor is small. Instead, they watch (surveillance) the tumor with radiology scans (MRIs). If the tumor grows, they may then decide to treat it.
Recovering After a Benign Brain Tumor
Benign brain tumors and their treatments can affect your daily life. You can have trouble with vision, speech, walking, etc., depending on where your tumor is or was. These problems may not go away after treatment. Many people can get back to normal activities over time. You may need to work with physical, occupational, or speech therapy to regain function. You may also need to see specialists that help with other needs such as hearing and vision.
Recurrence & Follow-Up Care
Some benign brain tumors can come back after treatment (recur). It is important to work with your treatment team and to follow their plan for follow-up care. Follow-up care can include imaging (MRI), blood work, and physical examinations. Be sure to talk to your provider about any new or worsening symptoms.