Brain Tumours (Neuro-Oncology)

About the Condition

Brain tumours can affect people of any age, although they tend to be more common in older adults. Around 5,000 people are diagnosed with a primary malignant brain tumour in the UK each year. *  Many others are diagnosed with secondary tumours. The exact cause of primary malignant brain tumours is unknown, although certain genetic conditions and previous radiotherapy treatment to the head may increase the risk.
Cancerous brain tumours are fast-growing and spread to other areas of the brain and spine.
Most malignant tumours are secondary cancers, meaning they started in another part of the body and spread to the brain.
Most cancerous brain tumours develop from the glial tissue, which supports the brain’s nerve cells. They are known as gliomas, and can be further distinguished depending on the cells they developed from:

  • astrocytomas develop from cells thought to provide the brain’s framework
  • oligodendrogliomas develop from the cells that produce the fatty covering of nerves
  • ependymomas develop from the cells that line the cavities in the brain

Some malignant tumours are a mixture of these types or can develop in a different part of the brain.



The symptoms of a malignant brain tumour can depend on its size and it’s location in the brain. Common symptoms include:

  • severe, persistent headaches
  • seizures (fits)
  • persistent nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
  • mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality
  • progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • vision, or speech problems


If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor to ensure you receive a proper diagnosis.



If your GP suspects you may have a tumour, or they are unsure what is causing your symptoms, it is likely you will be referred to a Neurologist. A neurological examination may involve tests of your:

  • hand and limb strength
  • reflexes, e.g. your knee-jerk reflex
  • hearing and vision
  • skin sensitivity
  • balance and co-ordination
  • memory and mental agility (using simple questions or arithmetic)


Other tests that may help diagnose a brain tumour include:

  • A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
  • A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
  • an electroencephalogram (EEG), which is where electrodes attached to your scalp record your brain activity to look for any abnormalities

If a tumour is suspected, a biopsy may be taken to establish the type of tumour and the most effective treatment. A small hole (known as a burr hole) is made in the skull under anaesthetic and a very fine needle is used to obtain a sample of tumour tissue.



A primary malignant brain tumour should be treated as soon as possible, because it can spread and damage other parts of the brain and spinal cord. Surgery will usually need to be carried out to remove as much of the tumour as possible. This may be followed by radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells and reduce the chances of the tumour returning.
Malignant tumours will unfortunately often eventually return after treatment. If this happens, or if you have a secondary tumour, a cure may not be possible. However treatment can be used to improve symptoms and prolong life.


Support Services

Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual; it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.
Following treatment for a malignant brain tumour, you may still be left with some ongoing problems, such as speech problems, seizures or walking difficulties. At CCL we can provide a range of support services to help you recover from or adapt to these problems.


Brain Tumours (Neuro-Oncology) Consultants


Cancer Centre London

Parkside Hospital