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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.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating brain tumours section.

 

 

About the information on this page

This page contains quite detailed information about the survival rates of different types of brain tumour. We have included it because many people have asked us for this. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wants to read this type of information. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment or not, then perhaps you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.

No UK 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.

 

Cancer statistics in general

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.

 

Factors that affect outcome

With brain tumours, the likely outcome of treatment depends mainly on the following factors.

Type of tumour

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 of the tumour cells

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.

Position in the brain

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.

Size or shape of the brain tumour

Large tumours or those where the edge of the tumour is not clear may be more difficult to remove. 

Age at diagnosis

The outlook is often better for younger people. See below.

 

Overall outcomes for brain tumours

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, for all types of cancerous brain tumours in adults, around 4 out of 10 people diagnosed (40%) live for at least a year. About 19 out of every 100 people (19%) live for at least 5 years after diagnosis. And around 14 out of every 100 people diagnosed (14%) live for at least 10 years. 

Younger people seem to do better. In people aged between 15 and 39, more than half (53%) live for at least 5 years 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%) live for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

  • More than 8 out of 10 children (80%) with astrocytoma live for at least 5 years
  • More than 2 out of 3 children (67%) with ependymoma or choroid plexus live for at least 5 years
  • In children with other types of glioma, more than 4 out of 10 (44%) live for at least 5 years
 

Gliomas

Gliomas can be astrocytomas, ependymomas or oligodendrogliomas. The different types have very different outlooks.

 

Astrocytomas

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
  • Age
  • 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 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 although it is usually not possible to remove them completely. More than 40% of people diagnosed with a grade 2 astrocytoma are alive 10 years 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) about 27 out of 100 people diagnosed (27%) live for at least 5 years. 

Unfortunately, the outlook is not so good for people with the most quickly growing astrocytomas (grade 4 – glioblastoma multiforme). Many people live for less than a year. Around 6 in 100 people (6%) are alive after 5 years. People who have a particular gene turned off in their tumour cells tend to live longer and respond better to certain types of chemotherapy. The gene is called the MGMT methylation gene. Just over 1 in 3 people with glioblastoma multiforme have this gene change.

 

Oligodendroglioma

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 live for at least 5 years
  • For grade 3 oligodendroglioma 30 to 38 people in 100 (30 to 38%) will live for at least 5 years

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.

 

Ependymoma

Ependymomas are also grouped by grade – grades 1 to 3. 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%) live for more than 5 years. 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, about 57 out of 100 children (57%) diagnosed with ependymoma live for at least 5 years. Older children tend to do slightly better than younger ones.

 

Gliomas in children

More than 3 out of 10 brain tumours in children (30%) are gliomas. Gliomas in children behave very differently from adults. In children with low grade gliomas, more than 87% will live for more than 5 years after surgery. More than 83% will live 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. About 96 out of 100 children with pilocytic glioma (96%) will live for at least 10 years.

There is a type of childhood glioma called diffuse glioma. This type does not have such a good outlook. About 48 out of every 100 children diagnosed with this type of brain tumour (48%) will live for at least 5 years 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. About 73 out of every 100 children (73%) diagnosed with a grade 2 glioma live for at least 5 years. For the more aggressive grade 3 and 4 tumours the outlook is not so good. Only about 20 in 100 children (20%) diagnosed with glioblastoma will live for 5 years.

For older children with glioma, the outlook is about the same as it is for adults.

 

Meningioma

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). 8 out of 10 (80%) people with this type of meningioma will live for more than 5 years. 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 6 out of 10 people (60%) with a high grade meningioma will live for more than 5 years.

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.

 

Primitive neuroectodermal tumour (PNET)

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 live for more than 10 years. 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

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 85 out of 100 people (85%) with pituitary tumours live 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.

 

Haemangioblastoma

Haemangioblastomas are very slow growing tumours that generally have a good outlook. But this depends on their position in the brain. The outlook is better if the tumour is removable with surgery.

 

Acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuromas are also called vestibular schwannomas. They are benign tumours that are nearly always curable. Surgery is the usual treatment but radiotherapy (usually stereotactic radiotherapy) may be used if the tumour is small.

 

Pineal region tumours

Pineal region tumours are rare. Overall, more than 70 out of 100 people diagnosed (70%) are alive 5 years 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 live for more than 5 years. In older people, only around 25 out of 100 (25%) will live for more than 5 years.

 

Haemangiopericytomas

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 9 out of 10 people live for more than a year (95%)
  • More than 8 out of 10 live for more than 5 years (82%)
  • Around 6 out of 10 people live for more than 10 years
  • More than 2 out of 10 live for more than 20 years
 

Spinal cord tumours

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. Depending on the type of tumour, from 20 to 80 out of 100 people (20 to 80%) are alive 5 years after treatment.

 

Central nervous system lymphoma

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. 

 

How reliable these statistics are

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.

 

Clinical trials

Taking part in clinical trials can help to improve the outlook for people in the future. There is information about clinical trials in the trials and research section. You may also want to ask your specialist about any current trials for your type of brain tumour.

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Updated: 7 May 2014