Statistics and outlook for brain tumours
This page is about statistics and what they can tell us about the outlook for people with brain tumours. You can find the following information
- A quick guide to what's on this page
- About the information on this page
- Cancer statistics in general
- Factors that affect outcome
- Overall outcomes for brain tumours
- Outcomes for types of brain tumour
- Gliomas in children
Statistics and outlook for brain tumours
Outlook means your chances of getting better. Doctors call this your prognosis. Lower down this page we have quite detailed information about the likely outcome of different types of brain tumours. The statistics are taken from a variety of sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check every section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. The statistics are intended as a general guide only and can't be used to predict your individual outcome.
We include statistics because people ask for them, but not everyone wants to read this type of information. If you don't want to read it you can skip this page for now and come back another time.
How reliable are cancer statistics?
No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people, for example. The statistics cannot tell you about the different treatments people may have had, or how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.
This page has quite detailed information about the survival rates for different stages of brain cancer. People ask us for this information but not everyone diagnosed with cancer wants to read it. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment, you can always come back to it later.
The statistics here are intended as a general guide and can't tell you what is likely to happen in your individual case.
On this website we have explanations about the different types of cancer statistics including incidence, mortality and survival. Unless you are very familiar with medical statistics, it might help to read that section before you read the statistics below.
Remember - You may hear doctors use the term 1 year survival or 5 year survival. This does not mean you will only live for 1 year or for 5 years. It relates to the number of people in research who are alive 1 year or 5 years after diagnosis. Doctors follow what happens to people for 5 years after treatment in any research study. They can then compare the results of treatment with other research studies. So they commonly use the term 5 year survival
Please note that there are no statistics are available for survival for different stages of adult brain tumours or the treatments that they had. But there is slightly more information available for children. The statistics presented here are pulled together from a variety of different sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. We give statistics because people ask us for them. But they are only intended as a general guide and cannot be used to predict your individual outcome.
With brain tumours, the likely outcome of treatment depends mainly on the following factors.
- The type of tumour
- Grade of the tumour cells
- Position in the brain
- The size or shape of the brain tumour
- Age at diagnosis for children and for some adult brain tumours
Different types of brain tumours respond differently to treatment. Some respond better to radiotherapy than others, for example. Some types are likely to spread (infiltrate) into the surrounding brain tissue. This may make them impossible to remove with surgery.
Grade is one of the most important factors for some types of tumours. But for others the grade is much less likely to predict how the tumour will respond to treatment. Generally, fast growing tumours are much more likely to come back after treatment than slow growing tumours.
The position of the tumour in the brain may affect the type of treatment that doctors can give. For example, surgery is a main treatment for most types of brain tumour. But some parts of the brain are more difficult to operate on than others. Sometimes the tumour may be in an area where it is not possible to remove it all with a safety margin of healthy tissue around it. This may increase the risk of the cancer coming back.
In some areas of the brain it is not possible to operate at all. These include the nerves that control your sight (optic nerves) or the brain stem, spinal cord, or areas close to or surrounding major blood vessels. For tumours in these areas, radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be better options for treatment. The outlook will then depend on how well the tumour responds to those treatments.
Large tumours or those where the edge of the tumour is not clear may be more difficult to remove.
The outlook is often better for younger people. See below.
The term brain tumour covers
- Non cancerous or benign tumours that are slowly growing and not likely to spread
- Cancerous or malignant tumours that are more quickly growing and likely to spread into other areas of the brain
Brain tumours are also sometimes called brain cancer. On this page we cover statistics for cancerous (malignant) brain tumours unless we say that non cancerous (benign) tumours are included.
Overall in England and Wales, for all types of cancerous brain tumours in adults, 40 out of 100 people diagnosed (40%) survive for one year or more after they are diagnosed. Around 20 out of every 100 people (20%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis. And around 15 out of every 100 people (15%) survive for 10 years or more after they are diagnosed.
Younger people seem to do better. In people aged between 15 and 39, around 60 out of 100 (60%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.
Women seem to do slightly better than men but we don't know why this is.
There are UK statistics for some types of brain tumour in children aged 1 to 14. Survival rates more than doubled between the 1960's and the early 2000s. Overall, 65 out of every 100 children diagnosed with a brain tumour (65%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.
- More than 80 out of 100 children (80%) with astrocytoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis
- Around 67 out of 100 children (67%) with ependymoma or choroid plexus will survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed
- In children with other types of glioma, more than 40 out of 100 (40%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis
You can click on these links for information about the outlook for
- Primitive neuroectodermal tumour (PNET)
- Pituitary tumours
- Vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma)
- Pineal region tumours
- Spinal cord tumours
- Primary central nervous system lymphomas
Astrocytomas can be slow growing (grade 1 or 2) or fast growing (grade 3 or 4). Grade 3 is called anaplastic astrocytoma. Grade 4 is very fast growing and is called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM.
The prognosis for glioma depends on many factors including
- The grade of the tumour
- Where in the brain the glioma is
- Whether the tumour can be removed surgically
- How the tumour affects day to day functions such as thinking, memory and moving around
- Certain changes in genes within the tumour
- Whether the tumour responds to radiotherapy or chemotherapy
Grade 1 astrocytomas (eg pilocystic astrocytomas) can often be completely removed with surgery and have a very good outlook although some tumours may come back. The outlook can also be good for grade 2 tumours (eg diffuse astrocytoma) - although it is usually not possible to remove them completely. More than 40 out of 100 (40%) of people diagnosed with a grade 2 astrocytoma survive for 10 years or more after diagnosis. Low grade tumours in adults may change into high grade tumours (transform) after some time though.
A large US study showed that for grade 3 astrocytomas (anaplastic astrocytoma) more than 25 out of 100 people diagnosed (25%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.
Unfortunately, the outlook is not so good for people with the most quickly growing astrocytomas (grade 4 – glioblastoma multiforme GBM). Many people live for less than a year. Around 6 in 100 people (6%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis. People who have a particular gene called MGMT turned off (methylated) in their tumour cells tend to live longer and respond better to certain types of chemotherapy. Just over 1 in 3 people with glioblastoma multiforme have this gene change. For a person under the age of 50, with no disability, an MGMT methylated GBM, who has had surgery where the surgeon has ben able to remove 90% of the tumour or more, has around a 2 in 3 chance of being alive at 2 years.
Oligodendrogliomas can be either grade 2 (low grade) or grade 3 (also called anaplastic). They tend to grow into the surrounding brain tissue and so cannot be completely removed. Some of these tumours grow so slowly that you may be well for a long time after treatment.
- About 66 to 78 out of 100 people (66 to 78%) with a grade 2 oligodendroglioma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis
- For grade 3 oligodendroglioma 30 to 38 people in 100 (30 to 38%) will survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed
It is important to remember that everyone's case is different. These figures just give you an idea of how many people, on average, will live for at least 5 years with this disease. Some people have a change in the gene code within the cancer cells (called 1p19q co-deletion). People with this gene change tend to have a longer survival than people without the change. These tumours also respond better to treatments, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Oligodendrogliomas are rare in children and so it is difficult to give an idea of the outlook but, as with other brain tumours, they tend to do slightly better than adults.
Ependymomas are also grouped by grade – grades 1 to 3. Grade 1 (myxopillary ependymoma) often occur at the bottom of the spine and though hard to get rid of completely can remain unchanged for many years. Grade 2 lesions can be treated successfully with surgery but require careful follow up.
Grade 3 is called anaplastic and these tumours tend to come back after treatment. In general, more than half the people diagnosed with ependymoma (50%) will survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis. On average, people with low grade ependymoma live for about 10 years after surgery. People with high grade ependymoma live for about 2 to 3 years on average.
Ependymomas are the third most common childhood brain tumour. About half the children diagnosed are under 5 years old. Generally, almost 60 out of 100 children diagnosed with ependymoma (60%) survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis. Older children tend to do slightly better than younger ones.
More than 30 out of 100 brain tumours in children (30%) are gliomas. Gliomas in children behave very differently from adults. In children with low grade gliomas, almost 90 out of 100 (90%) will survive for 5 years or more after surgery. More than 80 out of 100 (80%) will survive for more than 10 years and in these children the glioma is unlikely to come back.
Most childhood gliomas are pilocytic astrocytomas which are classed as grade 1 tumours, and seen as benign. Most of them are found in the cerebellum (the back part of the brain). If the tumour can be completely removed the child is cured. Around 95 out of 100 children with pilocytic glioma (95%) will survive for 10 years or more.
There is a type of childhood glioma called diffuse glioma. This type does not have such a good outlook. Almost 50 out of every 100 children diagnosed with this type of brain tumour (50%) will survive for 5 years or more after treatment.
Gliomas may occur in the nerves leading to the eye (the optic nerve) and these are different to other types of glioma. They occur often in people who have a particular genetic syndrome called neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) or neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2). The outlook with optic nerve gliomas is very good and treatment is successful for most people. In children who don't have NF1 but get optic nerve glioma the outlook is not quite so good, especially for very young children.
For higher grade childhood gliomas, the outlook for babies younger than a year is unfortunately very poor. But for children older than one year, the outlook is better than for adults. Almost 75 out of every 100 children diagnosed with a grade 2 glioma (75%) survive for 5 years or more. For the more aggressive grade 3 and 4 tumours the outlook is not so good. Only about 20 in 100 children diagnosed with glioblastoma (20%) will survive for 5 years or more.
For older children with glioma, the outlook is about the same as it is for adults.
About a quarter (25%) of all brain tumours are meningiomas. They are grouped into 3 grades
- Slow growing (benign or low grade)
- Intermediate grade (atypical or grade 2)
- Aggressive (anaplastic or high grade)
It is usually possible to remove these tumours but this depends on their position in the brain.
Meningiomas are mostly slowly growing (low grade). Around 80 out of 100 (80%) people with this type of meningioma will survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis. Even if a slow growing meningioma cannot be completely removed, it may not grow for a long time.
High grade, anaplastic meningiomas are more likely to come back after surgery and doctors may recommend radiotherapy for grade 2 and 3 tumours. About a third of the tumours that are completely removed will come back if they are not treated with radiotherapy after surgery. Fewer than 60 out of 100 people (60%) with a high grade meningioma will survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.
Meningiomas are rare in children. They may occur in children who have neurofibomatosis and tend to start in the lining of the fluid filled spaces in the brain (the ventricles). Unfortunately they tend to be the more quickly growing type. Treatment aims to remove the whole tumour and doctors may suggest radiotherapy after surgery for grade 3 tumours.
Medulloblastoma is the most common type of PNET. More than half of all PNETs are diagnosed in children less than 10 years old. About 20 to 25 in 100 childhood brain tumours (20 to 25%) are PNETs. The outlook for this type of brain tumour depends on the following factors.
- Whether it can be completely removed with surgery
- Whether it has spread to the brain stem, spinal cord or elsewhere in the body
- Whether it has features in the cells that make it difficult to treat
About 60 out of 100 people (60%) diagnosed with a PNET will survive for 10 years or more after diagnosis. If the tumour has not spread into surrounding brain tissue and can be completely removed, the chances of surviving 5 years without the tumour coming back will be higher. If the tumour has spread the outlook is not so good.
Pituitary tumours are almost always benign (not cancerous). Some make hormones and release them into the blood and some don’t. The outlook is usually good for these tumours but is slightly better for the type that does not make hormones. Almost 90 out of 100 people with pituitary tumours (90%) will survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis and have a normal lifespan.
Small, non hormone producing pituitary tumours are unlikely to grow again after surgery. With radiotherapy after surgery, they are nearly all cured.
The hormone producing tumours are more difficult to control but still have a good outlook. But it can be difficult to control the hormones that the tumour produces.
Pineal region tumours are rare. Overall, more than 70 out of 100 people diagnosed (70%) survive for 5 years or more after treatment. But the outlook varies for each person depending on the type of pineal tumour. Radiotherapy works very well for germinomas or pineoblastomas and the outlook is good for these. They occur mainly in younger people. Treatment is more difficult for other types of pineal tumours such as glioma and pineal teratoma and the outlook is not so good.
Germinomas and pineoblastomas occur more in younger people and so the outlook for pineal region tumours varies with age. In people under 30, almost 80 out of 100 (80%) will survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis. In older people, only around 25 out of 100 (25%) will survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis.
Haemangiopericytomas of the brain and spinal cord occur mostly in the meninges (the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). They tend to be quickly growing tumours. After some years they are likely to spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord. In a review of cases
- More than 90 out of 100 people survive for more than a year after diagnosis (95%)
- More than 80 out of 100 people survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis (80%)
- Around 60 out of 100 people survive for 10 years or more after diagnosis (60%)
- More than 20 out of 100 will survive for more than 20 years after diagnosis (20%)
A number of different types of tumour can grow in the spinal cord and the outlook depends on the type you have. Meningiomas, schwannomas and chordomas usually grow on the outside of the spinal cord and so are removable. Other types of tumour that grow within the spinal cord itself may not be able to be taken out completely and so need radiotherapy after surgery. The outcome varies a lot depending on the type of tumour.
Central nervous system lymphoma (CNS lymphoma) is a rare condition. Unfortunately these tumours can be very difficult to treat. Depending on the type of lymphoma it may be treated with chemotherapy (usually including high dose methotrexate), or radiotherapy or a combination of these. Patients who are unwell, or not fit enough to have chemotherapy, may have radiotherapy to the whole brain.
Survival rates are beginning to improve as more research is done using chemotherapy to treat these tumours. The average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with primary CNS lymphoma is 18 months to 2 years but some people live much longer. Some patients with this type of brain tumour develop it as a result of having AIDS, which can make it more difficult to treat effectively.
No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people for example. Statistics apply to large groups of people and not to individuals. No statistics include all the patients with a particular type of tumour. They will refer to a group of patients that have been studied in a particular clinical trial or research paper.
The statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. New chemotherapy drugs and new ways of giving chemotherapy to the brain may help people to live longer, as well as relieving symptoms. There are many individual factors that will determine your treatment and prognosis.
If you would like to read more about survival rates and other statistics for brain cancer, go to our CancerStats page:
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