Types of Brain Cancer

A brain tumor is an overgrowth of abnormal cells that form a mass. There are roughly more than 150 different types of tumors that can develop in the brain and central nervous system, but for the purposes of this page, we will focus on malignant (cancerous) brain tumors.

Signs and symptoms of brain cancer

The symptoms of brain cancer can vary greatly from patient to patient, depending on the type of tumor, its size and where it is located in the brain. Whether a brain tumor is malignant or benign, it can put pressure on brain tissue and interfere with normal brain function, causing a host of symptoms.

Excessive fatigue may be one of the signs of brain cancer.
Excessive fatigue could be one of the signs of brain cancer.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of brain cancer include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Seizures
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Cognitive changes, including issues with language and communication; attention and concentration; or reasoning and judgment
  • Neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as aggression, hallucination, paranoia and violent behaviors
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Balance problems
  • Double vision or vision loss
  • Lack of coordination or decreased muscle control

While some of these symptoms – such as headaches and fatigue – can be vague and attributed to less serious conditions, others are more specific and can even help identify the location of the tumor since the symptoms would be caused by pressure in a particular part of the brain.

Types of malignant brain tumors

The first way brain tumors can be classified is by whether they are primary or secondary tumors. Primary brain tumors are ones that initially develop in the brain. Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors, on the other hand, originate in other organs, such as the breast or lung, and then spread to the brain as they advance. This classification is significant because primary and secondary brain tumors are treated differently.

Another way that brain tumors are categorized is by the type of cells they develop in. Primary brain tumors can start in virtually any kind of tissue or cell in the brain. Some brain tumors are composed of mixed cell types.


More than 70% of all brain tumors are gliomas, which are tumors that form in the glial cells. Some brain tumor types that are considered gliomas include:

  • Astrocytomas (start in glial cells called astrocytes)
  • Ependymomas (start in cells lining the ventricles called ependymal cells)
  • Oligodendrogliomas (start in glial cells called oligodendrocytes)

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most invasive glioma. It is usually composed of multiple kinds of the aforementioned glial cells (astrocytes, ependymal cells and oligodendrocytes).

Other types of brain tumors

Some non-glial brain tumors include:

  • Hemangioblastomas (start in blood vessels in the cerebellum)
  • Rhabdoid tumors (aggressive tumors that tend to spread throughout the central nervous system)
  • Meningiomas (start in the meninges, which are the tissues surrounding the outer part of the brain)
  • Medulloblastomas (start in neuroectodermal cells in the cerebellum)
  • Gangliogliomas (contain both glial cells and neurons)
  • Schwannomas (start in Schwann cells, which surround and insulate nerves)

How malignant brain tumors are treated at Moffitt

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Neuro-Oncology Program treats all types of malignant brain tumors, including metastatic cancer as well as the rarest forms of primary brain cancer. Our multispecialty brain cancer team is comprised of experts in all fields of therapy, allowing us to take a unique, comprehensive approach to treatment. All patients in our program receive individualized treatment plans that are developed collaboratively by our team, ensuring that all options are considered for the best possible outcome and quality of life.

Treatment plans can vary greatly from patient to patient and are influenced by many factors, such as the type and grade of the tumor, the tumor’s location and size, the patient’s overall health and more. A treatment plan may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy and other biological therapies. Moffitt also has a robust clinical trials program, making some of the most groundbreaking brain cancer treatments accessible to our patients before they are widely available.

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Arnold Etame, Neurosurgeon, Department of Neuro-Oncology

For more information about the many types of brain cancer, or to consult with an oncologist specializing in the treatment of malignant brain tumors, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.