A tumour, which is a mass of abnormal cells, can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Brain cancer is diagnosed only when the tumour is malignant, spreading aggressively and invading adjacent areas in the brain and destroying the normal cells. A benign tumour typically remains localised but can still cause harm by compressing adjacent brain structures.

“A brain tumour doesn’t always originate in the brain. A tumour can develop in another part of the body and spread to the brain,” says Associate Professor Ng ​​Wai Hoe, Senior Consultant and Head of the Department of Neurosurge​ry at the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), a member of the SingHealth ​group.

A tumour that originates in the brain is called a primary brain tumour, and one that originates elsewhere and spreads to the brain is called a secondary or metastatic tumour. Secondary brain tumours are cancerous and are unfortunately more common than primary ones.​​

How do you get a brain tumour?

The exact cause of a primary brain tumour is unknown. A secondary brain tumour is caused by cancer spreading from another part of the body. Doctors have identified some risk factors for developing a primary brain tumour. These risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk for brain tumour typically increases with age. People over the age of 65 have a higher risk.
  • Race: Caucasians are more prone to developing a brain tumour.
  • Gender: Males are prone to brain tumours.
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation: Radiation therapy for treating cancers such as leukaemia, and radiation exposure from atomic bombs.

“Genetic conditions such as neurofibromatosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome increase your risk of developing a brain tumour and brain cancer. However, these account for a very small percentage of cases”, adds A/Prof Ng.

Mobile phones, power lines and microwave ovens have NOT been proven to be risk factors for developing a brain tumour.​

Read on for the symptoms and types of brain tumour.

Ref: S13​