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Symptoms

Common symptoms of brain tumours include headaches, feeling or being sick and seizures (fits).

These symptoms and the others listed below are often caused by other medical conditions. But if you have any of them, it’s important to see your doctor.

Brain tumours cause symptoms because:

  • they take up space inside the skull when they grow
  • of their position in the brain

The symptoms can develop gradually over some months or even years if the tumour is slow growing. Or quickly over days or weeks if the tumour is fast growing. 

This video explains the importance of going to your GP if you notice any possible cancer symptoms. It lasts for 42 seconds.

Symptoms due to increased pressure

Your skull is made of bone, so there's a fixed amount of space for the brain to take up. If there's a growing tumour, it increases the pressure inside the skull. This is called raised intracranial pressure. It might cause:

Headaches

Headaches are a common symptom of illness. It's unlikely that you have a brain tumour if headaches are your only symptom. But see a doctor if you have headaches:

  • with feeling or being sick
  • when you didn't have them before
  • that wake you up at night
  • with eye problems such as seeing flashing lights or blind spots
  • that got steadily worse over a period of weeks or months

Seizures (fits)

Seizures happen in up to 8 out of every 10 people (up to 80%) with a brain tumour. You might have some jerking or twitching of your hands, arms or legs. Or your seizure might affect your whole body.

Having a seizure is very frightening. Different illnesses can cause seizures and it is important that you see your doctor immediately or go to A&E if you have one.

Feeling or being sick

You might feel or be sick, especially when you move suddenly. It’s rare for people with a brain tumour to have sickness on its own. You may have sickness with headaches, weakness and problems with your eyes.

Drowsiness or loss of consciousness

You might feel drowsy or even lose consciousness. This might happen because raised intracranial pressure can lower the blood supply to the brain. This can be frightening for you and the people around you.

Problems with your eyes

You might find that your eyesight is getting worse and glasses are not helping. Or your vision comes and goes. You might lose the ability to see out of the corner of your eyes, making you bump into cars or objects on your left or right side. You may also have:

  • blurred vision
  • floating shapes
  • tunnel vision

Personality and behaviour changes

You, or the people around you, might notice that you are confused or that your personality has changed. You may also find it difficult to think normally.

Symptoms due to the position of the tumour

Brain tumours can cause different symptoms depending on where they are in the brain. The main areas of the brain include the cerebrum and the cerebellum. The cerebrum is divided into 4 areas called lobes:

  • frontal lobe
  • temporal lobe
  • parietal lobe
  • occipital lobe
Diagram showing the lobes of the brain

There are also other important areas such as:

  • brainstem
  • spinal cord
  • pituitary gland
  • pineal gland

Frontal lobe tumour symptoms

The frontal lobe controls movement such as walking and is part of your personality. A tumour in the frontal lobe may cause:

  • difficulty walking
  • problems with your sight and speech
  • weakness on one side of the body
  • changes in personality or behaving in a way that you wouldn’t normally
  • loss of smell

Temporal lobe tumour symptoms

The temporal lobe is where you process sounds and where you store memories. A tumour in this area may cause:

  • short term memory loss
  • difficulty with hearing and speaking
  • hearing voices in your head

Parietal lobe tumour symptoms

The parietal lobe allows you to recognise objects and stores that knowledge. A tumour in this area may cause:

  • difficulty speaking and understanding
  • problems with reading or writing
  • loss of feeling in one part of the body

Occipital lobe tumour symptoms

The occipital lobe processes what you can see. A tumour located in this area may cause sight problems such as:

  • changes in vision
  • difficulty to identify the colour and size of objects

Cerebellum tumour symptoms

The cerebellum controls our balance and posture. So a tumour in this area may cause:

  • problems with coordination and balance
  • dizziness
  • sickness
  • uncontrolled movements of the eyes such as flickering

Brain stem tumour symptoms

The brain stem controls important body functions such as breathing. A tumour in this area may cause:

  • difficulty swallowing and speaking
  • unsteadiness and difficulty walking
  • double vision

Spinal cord tumour symptoms

The spinal cord is a long bundle of nerves that stretches from the brain to the lower part of the back. A tumour in the spinal cord may cause pain and numbness or weakness in different parts of the body. You may also lose control of your bladder or bowel.

Pituitary gland tumour symptoms

The pituitary gland makes hormones that are important for your body to function. A tumour in this area of the brain can cause:

  • weight gain
  • infertility
  • mood changes
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood sugar levels (diabetes)
  • leakage of milk from the breasts when you're not breastfeeding

Pineal gland tumour symptoms

The pineal gland makes a hormone called melatonin. Tumours in this area can cause:

  • headaches
  • sickness
  • tiredness
  • double vision
  • unsteadiness when walking

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms or other changes that are unusual for you or that won’t go away. Your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.

Last reviewed: 
24 Oct 2019
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