Primary and secondary brain tumours | Cancer Research UK
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Primary and secondary brain tumours

Men and women discussing brain tumours

Brain tumours can start in the brain (a primary brain tumour) or can spread into the brain from a cancer somewhere else in the body (a secondary brain tumour). You can read about


Primary brain tumours

Cancers that start in the brain are called primary brain tumours. Tumours can start in any part of the brain or related structures.  

In adults, the most common types of brain tumour are those that start in the main part of the brain called the cerebrum. Around a quarter of brain and central nervous system tumours (24%) start in the membranes that surround and protect the brain (the meninges). And around 1 in 10 (10%) tumours start in the glands within the brain such as the pituitary gland or pineal gland.

In children, the picture is slightly different. 6 out of 10 (60%) childhood brain tumours start in the cerebellum or brain stem. Only 4 out of 10 (40%) are in the cerebrum.


Secondary brain tumours

Cancers that have spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body are called secondary brain tumours or brain metastases. Cancers of the lung, breast, kidney, stomach, bowel (colon), and melanoma skin cancer can all spread to the brain.

Cancer cells break away from the main tumour and travel through the bloodstream to lodge in the brain. There they can begin to grow into new tumours. 


More information about brain tumours

Most of the information in this section of the website is about primary brain tumours. Some of the information is useful for both primary and secondary brain tumours, for example, the living with a brain tumour section.

If you are looking for information, it is important to understand which of these types of brain tumour you have. The treatment and outlook may be different for each. You can ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you are not sure.

There is information about the treatment of secondary brain tumours in this section of the website. To find information about the primary cancer look in the section about your cancer type.

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Updated: 22 September 2015