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Cancer Types: Brain Cancer

Brain cancer is treated in our Neuro-Oncology Program within the Upstate Cancer Center.

For more information or answers to your questions about our Cancer Care, please call 315 464-HOPE (4673) to speak with an Upstate Cancer Center representative.


Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the brain.

There are two main types:

  • Primary—A tumor starts in the brain.
  • Secondary—Cancer spreads to the brain from another site in the body. These are called brain metastases. The most common come from lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma.
Brain Tumor
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Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. They go on to form a tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths harm nearby tissues. They can also spread throughout the brain or spinal cord. It is not clear what causes this.

Risk Factors

A person is at higher risk of having a brain tumor if they:

  • Were exposed to radiation
  • Have problems with their immune system
  • Have people in their family with the same problems


Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and where it is. A growing tumor will often have swelling around it. This is called cerebral edema. The tumor or its cerebral edema may cause:

  • Problems due to more pressure in the brain
  • Drowsiness
  • Problems due to the part of the brain that has the tumor


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. The answers and a physical exam may raise concern about a brain tumor. Other tests that may be done include:

  • Imaging tests such as:
  • Biopsy or craniotomy—a sample of the tumor is studied in a lab and tested

There are many types of tumors. Test results and a biopsy will help find the type. Knowing this helps with a care plan.


Care depends on the tumor type and where it is. Some methods may leave lasting problems.

Before starting care, a person may need:

  • Steroids to reduce swelling and fluid buildup
  • Antiseizure medicines


A person may need:

  • Craniotomy—some or all of the tumor is removed through a hole in the skull
  • Shunt—a long thin tube is placed in the brain to drain fluid to another part of the body

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells.

  • External—Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body. Tumors that spread from another area of the body may be treated with whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT).
  • Internal—Radioactive materials are placed in the body near the cancer cells. This is not often done for brain tumors.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)—Higher doses of radiation can be sent to specific areas of the brain often in a single dose. This is not used for all types of tumors.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Rehabilitation Therapy

This will help you get better faster. How long this therapy takes depends on the amount of damage the tumor has caused. Therapy will help with:

  • Walking, balance, and building strength
  • Daily skills such as dressing, eating, and using the toilet
  • Speaking or swallowing problems


There is no way to prevent a brain tumor since the cause is unknown.


  • Adult central nervous (CNS) tumors treatment (PDQ®)-health professional version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/hp/adult-brain-treatment-pdq.
  • Astrocytoma and oligodendroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/astrocytoma-and-oligodendroglioma-in-adults.
  • Brain tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Available at: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Brain-Tumors.
  • Glioblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/glioblastoma.
  • Lukas, R.V. and Mrugala, M.M. Pivotal therapeutic trials for infiltrating gliomas and how they affect clinical practice. Neuro Oncol Pract, 2017; 4( 4): 209-219.
  • Lukas, R.V., Wainwright, D.A., et al. Newly diagnosed glioblastoma: a review on clinical management. Oncology (Williston Park), 2019; 33 (3): 91-100.
  • Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors.

Library resources related to brain cancer.

For more information:

Internet Links
The detailed guide includes descriptions of the causes, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, staging, and treatments of brain cancer in adults.
Risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and more from UpToDate.
A detailed description of brain cancer from the Mayo Clinic, including symptoms, risk factors, causes, treatments, and prevention.
Link to a search of the MedlinePlus database for health information on bladder cancer. MedlinePlus links are managed by medical librarians at the National Library of Medicine.
Information about medical care for brain cancer from the National Cancer Institute, including information on diagnosis and staging, treatment and rehabilitation, and taking part in research studies.