A brain tumour is an abnormal growth of cells arising from the brain or adjacent tissues inside the skull. Brain tumours represent up to 20 per cent of childhood cancers in Singapore and over a hundred brain tumour cases are treated at the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) annually.

Adj Asst Prof David Low, Head and Consultant of the Neu​rosurgical Service at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and Consultant at the Department at Neurosurgery​ of the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), a member of the SingHealth​ explains the basic types of brain tumours, the difference between brain tumour and brain cancer, as well as the symptoms to look out for.

Types of brain tumours​

There are two basic types of brain tumours - primary and secondary (metastatic).

Primary brain tumours

Primary brain tumours arise from the brain and are named after the part they come from. They can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Benign tumours grow slowly and do not spread to other areas of the body. However, they can still result in severe dysfunction by exerting harmful pressure on adjacent parts of the brain. Malignant tumours, on the other hand, grow rapidly and invade healthy cells in the brain. They tend to spread to adjacent structures and to the spinal column through cerebrospinal fluid dissemination.

The most common types of primary brain tumours are as follows:

  • Meningioma - It arises from the meninges, the membrane covering the brain.
  • Glioma - It arises from the glial cells, which are support cells of the nervous system.
  • Medulloblastoma - Commonly present in children and is the most common childhood brain tumour. It is highly malignant and develops in the cerebellum.

Secondary brain tumours

Secondary brain tumours are also known as metastatic brain tumours and are mostly malignant. They are a result of cancer cells that have spread from another part of the body. For example, breast, lung and colon cancers may metastasise to the brain via the blood stream and result in secondary brain tumours.

“Both primary and secondary brain tumours can affect the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. If left unchecked, they can cause severe impairment, or even death. It is therefore important to watch out for warning signs and consult a doctor early if symptoms persist or worsen over time,” says Dr Low.

Find out more on brain tumour symptoms in the next page.

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