Brain Cancer

Brain tumors occur when abnormal cells form within the brain.[2] There are two main types of tumors: malignant or cancerous tumors and benign tumors.[2] Cancerous tumors can be divided into primary tumors, which start within the brain, and secondary tumors, which have spread from elsewhere, known as brain metastasis tumors.[1]

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All types of brain tumors may produce symptoms that vary depending on the part of the brain involved.[2] These symptoms may include headaches, seizures, problems with vision, vomiting and mental changes.[1][2][7] The headache is classically worse in the morning and goes away with vomiting.[2] Other symptoms may include difficulty walking, speaking or with sensations.[1][3] As the disease progresses, unconsciousness may occur.[3]

The cause of most brain tumors is unknown.[2] Uncommon risk factors include inherited neurofibromatosis, exposure to vinyl chloride, Epstein–Barr virus and ionizing radiation.[1][2][3] The evidence for mobile phone exposure is not clear.[3] The most common types of primary tumors in adults are meningiomas (usually benign), astrocytomas such as glioblastomas.[1] In children, the most common type is a malignant medulloblastoma.[3] Diagnosis is usually by medical examination along with computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.[2] The result is then often confirmed by a biopsy.[1] Based on the findings, the tumors are divided into different grades of severity.[1]

Treatment may include some combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.[1] Anticonvulsant medication may be needed if seizures occur.[1] Dexamethasone and furosemide may be used to decrease swelling around the tumor.[1] Some tumors grow gradually, requiring only monitoring and possibly needing no further intervention.[1] Treatments that use a person’s immune system are being studied.[2] Outcome varies considerably depending on the type of tumor and how far it has spread at diagnosis.[3] Glioblastomas usually have poor outcomes, while meningiomas usually have good outcomes.[3] The average five-year survival rate for all brain cancers in the United States is 33%.[4]

Secondary, or metastatic, brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors,[2] with about half of metastases coming from lung cancer.[2] Primary brain tumors occur in around 250,000 people a year globally, making up less than 2% of cancers.[3] In children younger than 15, brain tumors are second only to acute lymphoblastic leukemia as the most common form of cancer.[8] In Australia, the average lifetime economic cost of a case of brain cancer is $1.9 million, the greatest of any type of cancer.


Glioblastoma multiforme[edit]

Main article: Glioblastoma multiforme

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive (grade IV) and most common form of a malignant brain tumor. Even when aggressive multimodality therapy consisting of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgical excision is used, median survival is only 12–17 months. Standard therapy for glioblastoma multiforme consists of maximal surgical resection of the tumor, followed by radiotherapy between two and four weeks after the surgical procedure to remove the cancer, then by chemotherapy, such as temozolomide.[44] Most patients with glioblastoma take a corticosteroid, typically dexamethasone, during their illness to relieve symptoms. Experimental treatments include targeted therapy, gamma knife radiosurgery,[45] boron neutron capture therapy and gene therapy.[46][47]



Cancer immunotherapy is being actively studied. For malignant gliomas no therapy has been shown to improve life expectancy as of 2015.[58]

Vesicular stomatitis virus[edit]

See also: Oncolytic virus

In 2000, researchers used the vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV, to infect and kill cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.[59][60]

Retroviral replicating vectors[edit]

A brainstem glioma in four-year-old. MRI, sagittal, without contrast

Led by Prof. Nori Kasahara, researchers from USC, who are now at UCLA, reported in 2001 the first successful example of applying the use of retroviral replicating vectors towards transducing cell lines derived from solid tumors.[61] Building on this initial work, the researchers applied the technology to in vivo models of cancer and in 2005 reported a long-term survival benefit in an experimental brain tumor animal model.[62][unreliable medical source?] Subsequently, in preparation for human clinical trials, this technology was further developed by Tocagen (a pharmaceutical company primarily focused on brain cancer treatments) as a combination treatment (Toca 511 & Toca FC). This has been under investigation since 2010 in a Phase I/II clinical trial for the potential treatment of recurrent high-grade glioma including glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and anaplastic astrocytoma. No results have yet been published.[63]


This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.

Last update: PMID 23436013 (July 2014)

In the US, about 2,000 children and adolescents younger than 20 years of age are diagnosed with malignant brain tumors each year. Higher incidence rates were reported in 1985–1994 than in 1975–1983. There is some debate as to the reasons; one theory is that the trend is the result of improved diagnosis and reporting, since the jump occurred at the same time that MRIs became available widely, and there was no coincident jump in mortality. The central nervous system cancer survival rate in children is approximately 60%. The rate varies with the type of cancer and the age of onset: younger patients have higher mortality.[64]

In children under 2, about 70% of brain tumors are medulloblastomas, ependymomas, and low-grade gliomas. Less commonly, and seen usually in infants, are teratomas and atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumors.[65] Germ cell tumors, including teratomas, make up just 3% of pediatric primary brain tumors, but the worldwide incidence varies significantly.[66]

In the UK, 429 children aged 14 and under are diagnosed with a brain tumour on average each year, and 563 children and young people under the age of 19 are diagnosed.[67]


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