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
- Outcomes of all brain tumour treatment
- 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 CancerHelp UK. They 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 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 CancerHelp UK. 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 of the brain tumour
- Age at diagnosis for children and for some adult brain tumours
- How ill you are when you are diagnosed
Overall, for all types of malignant brain tumours in adults, more than a third of people diagnosed (36%) live for at least a year. About 15 out of every 100 people diagnosed (15%) live for more than 5 years after diagnosis. Just under 10 out of every 100 people diagnosed (10%) live for more than 10 years after diagnosis. Women seem to do slightly better than men but we don't know why this is.
The figures are better for younger people. For people under 40, around 1 in 2 of all those diagnosed (50%) live for more than 5 years after their diagnosis. For children the survival rates more than doubled between the 1960's and the early 2000s. Now, 65 out of every 100 children diagnosed with a brain tumour (65%) live for more than 5 years after diagnosis.
Different types of brain tumours respond differently to treatment. Some respond better to radiotherapy than others, for example. Grade is one of the most important factors for some types of tumours. But for others the appearance of the cells 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.
Some parts of the brain are more difficult to operate on than others. Because the brain controls all the functions of the body, it is not possible to remove large parts of it or very crucial parts of it without causing major problems. Unlike other types of cancer, it isn't always possible to remove the whole tumour, together with a safety margin of healthy tissue around it. This may affect the risk of the cancer coming back.
In some situations, surgery can be life threatening. If a brain tumour is growing in the nerves that control your sight (optic nerves) or in the brain stem, or is close to or surrounding major blood vessels, it may not be advisable to try to completely remove it - or even operate at all. In these situations, radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be better options for treatment. The outlook will then depend on how well the tumour responds to those treatments.
You can click on these links for information about the outlook for
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
- Whether the tumour responds to radiotherapy or chemotherapy
Low grade astrocytomas (grade 1 and 2) can often be completely removed with surgery and have a very good outlook although some tumours may come back. A large European study reported in 2005 that around 65% of people with low grade astrocytoma lived for at least 5 years and had no growth of their tumour during that time. Low grade tumours in adults may come back or change into high grade tumours 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.
For the most aggressive grade 4 astrocytomas (glioblastoma multiforme) the average life expectancy is less than a year. Fewer than 6 in 100 people (6%) are alive after 5 years.
Oligodendrogliomas can be either grade 2 or high grade (called anaplastic). They have a tendency to grow into the surrounding brain tissue and so cannot be completely removed. Some 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. But 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. Oligodendrogliomas are rare in children and so it is difficult to give prognosis 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 3 is called anaplastic. There is still some debate about how the grade affects the outlook of ependymoma. In general, more than half the people diagnosed (50%) live for more than 5 years. On average, people with low grade ependymoma will live for about 10 years after surgery. People with high grade ependymoma will 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.
More than 3 out of 10 (30%) brain tumours in children are gliomas. Gliomas in children behave very differently from adults though. Taking low grade gliomas as a whole more than 87% will live for more than 5 years after surgery and more than 83% will live for more than 10 years. In these children the glioma is unlikely to come back.
Most childhood gliomas are pilocytic gliomas 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 pattern. 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 optic nerve, and these are different to other gliomas. 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 most people will be successfully treated. 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, and 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 diagnosed with glioblastoma will live for 5 years.
For older children with glioma, unfortunately 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 low grade), intermediate grade (atypical or grade 2) and aggressive (malignant high grade). It is usually possible to remove these tumours. But this depends on where they are in the brain.
Meningiomas are mostly of the slow growing type. 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 be controlled for a long time.
High grade, malignant meningiomas are more likely to come back after surgery and doctors prefer you to also have radiotherapy for grade 2 and 3 tumours. About a third of those completely removed will come back if they are not treated with radiotherapy after surgery. Less than 6 out of 10 (60%) people 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. Unfortunately they tend to be the more quickly growing type. Treatment aims to remove the whole tumour and doctors may suggest radiotherapy as well 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 (20 to 25%) childhood brain tumours 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
- If 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, then 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 it is slightly better for the type that does not give out hormones. Almost 85 out of 100 people (85%) will be alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Small, non hormone producing pituitary tumours are unlikely to come back after surgery. With radiotherapy after surgery, the large non hormone producing tumours are nearly all cured. Very few will come back after treatment.
The hormone producing tumours are more difficult to control, but still have a good outlook. The difficulty is more in controlling the hormones that the tumour produces.
Pineal region tumours are rare. Overall, more than 70 out of 100 people diagnosed (70%) are alive 5 years after treatment. But the outlook will vary for each person depending on the type of pineal tumour they had. Radiotherapy works very well for germinomas or pinealoblastomas and so 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 pinealoblastomas 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.
A number of different types of tumour can grow in the spinal cord and the outlook depends on the type you have. Meningiomas, neurolemmomas and chordomas usually grow on the outside of the spinal cord and so are removable. Other types that grow into the spinal cord itself may not be able to be taken out completely and so need radiotherapy after surgery. Depending on the type, up to 80 out of 100 people (80%) are alive 5 years after treatment.
Central nervous system lymphoma (CNS lymphoma) is a rare condition. Fewer than 1 in 20 brain or spinal cord tumours (5%) are primary CNS lymphomas. Unfortunately they can be very difficult to treat. In relatively well patients, CNS lymphoma is usually first treated with chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy. In patients who are unwell, or not fit enough to get through the chemotherapy, they may be treated with radiotherapy to the whole brain. Survival rates are beginning to improve as more research is done using chemotherapy to treat these tumours. 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. The average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with primary CNS lymphoma is 12 to 18 months.
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 delivering 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 are fit enough to have treatment, you are likely to do better than average.
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