Malignant and Benign Brain Tumors

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Benign Tumors

Benign tumors are typically slow-growing and rarely spread to other areas of the body.  They often have well-defined borders, so surgical removal can be an effective treatment.  However, the location of a benign brain tumor can have a significant impact on treatment options and be as serious and life-threatening as a malignant tumor.  Benign brain tumors can be considered malignant if they are located in areas of the brain that control vital functions like breathing


Malignant Tumors

Unlike benign tumors, the cell structure of a “malignant” brain tumor is significantly different than that of “normal” brain cells. Malignant tumors tend to grow faster and can be more invasive than benign tumors.    Malignant tumors are life threatening. Sometimes malignant brain tumors are referred to as “brain cancer,” though they do not share all of the characteristics of cancer.  Most notably, cancer is characterized by the ability to spread from one organ to another.  It is very rare for a primary brain tumor to spread beyond the brain or spine.


Grading and Staging

Tumors are also classified as Grade I through Grade IV.  The more aggressive and dangerous the tumor is, the higher the grade.  Staging is another way to describe a tumor.  Staging is used to communicate whether a tumor has spread.  Staging for central nervous system tumors is typically inferred based upon CT scans and MRI images or by examining the cerebrospinal fluid. 


Classifying, grading and staging tumors is done to help physicians and others communicate more clearly about the tumor, to determine treatment recommendations and to better understand the patient's current health and prognosis.