Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
Lou and Jean Malnati Brain Tumor Institute
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Types of Brain Tumors

Brain tumors are classified depending on the type and origin of tissue involved, whether they are noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) and other factors. Some tumor types also have characteristic locations in the brain and central nervous system where they occur, and tumor site may be included in the name. Sometimes, tumors that start out being less invasive can become more invasive. Tumors may occur at any age, but many types of tumors occur most often in a certain age group. In adults, gliomas and meningiomas are most common. 

Pediatric brain tumors are diagnosed most often between the ages of three and eight, but can occur at any age. Children with brain tumors are diagnosed and treated by our affiliated sister institution, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago's Brain Tumor Center.

Browse the list below to learn more about the many types of tumors we treat at the Malnati Brain Tumor Institute.

 Astrocytoma, Anaplastic

Sub-Types

PXA

Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytomas, also referred to as “PXAs,” most commonly occur in children and tend to be superficially located in the brain. Surgery is the primary treatment.

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PNET

PNET (primitive neuroectodermal tumor) is a name used for tumors that appear identical under the microscope to medulloblastoma, but occur primarily in the cerebrum. PNET is used by some to refer to tumors such as the pineoblastoma, polar spongioblastoma, medulloblastoma and medulloepithelioma. Except for medulloblastoma, these are all very rare tumors.

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 Atypical Teratoid Rhaboid Tumor

ATRTs are rare, high-grade tumors that occur most often in children age 3 and younger. They tend to be fast-growing and frequently spread through the central nervous system.

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 Chordoma

A chordoma is a rare, slow-growing, but often intractable, extradural tumor occurring at the base of the skull or at the end of the spine.

 Chondrosarcoma

Chondroma is a rare, benign tumor that tends to arise at the base of the skull, especially in the area near the pituitary gland. These tumors are generally very slow-growing and may be present for a long time before causing any symptoms. The malignant (cancerous) form of chondroma is chondrosarcoma. There are several different types of chondrosarcoma, including conventional, clear cell, mesenchymal and dedifferentiated.

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 Choroid Plexus Papilloma

Choroid plexus papilloma is a rare, benign (noncancerous) tumor. These tumors arise from brain tissue called the “choroid plexus.” They commonly invade nearby tissue and spread widely via the cerebrospinal fluid.

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 Craniopharyngioma

A craniopharyngioma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor arising from small nests of cells near the pituitary stalk.

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 Ependymomas

Ependymomas arise from the ependymal cells that line the ventricles of the brain and the center of the spinal cord.

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Sub-Type

Subependymomas

These are typically slow-growing tumors that appear near a ventricle.

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 Germinomas

The germinoma is the most common type of germ cell tumor of the brain. It typically occurs in the pineal or suprasellar region of the brain. Because it tends to spread via the cerebrospinal fluid, diagnosis includes evaluation of the entire brain and spinal cord. Surgery for germinoma depends on its accessibility and position relative to critical brain structures. Chemotherapy and radiation can also be effective treatments for some patients.

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 Glioblastoma (GBM)

Glioblastomas (GBM) are the most common and aggressive primary brain tumor in adults. These tumors arise from astrocytes — the star-shaped cells that make up the “glue-like” or supportive tissue of the brain.

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 Glioma

“Glioma” is a general term used to describe any tumor that arises from the supportive (“gluey”) tissue of the brain. This tissue, called “glia,” helps to keep the neurons in place and functioning well.

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Sub-Types

Brain Stem Glioma

The most common type of brain stem glioma is an astrocytoma. Like astrocytomas elsewhere in the brain, they can be slow-growing or fast-growing.

The brain stem is a small but essential part of the brain that controls many of our motor and sensory functions. Many nerves that control the eyes, face and throat also come from the brain stem. It is also the part of the brain that controls many of our most fundamental and automatic functions, such as heart rate, breathing and swallowing. A tumor in the brain stem can affect any of these functions, depending on where it is located. Common symptoms that brain stem gliomas cause are double vision, trouble swallowing, facial weakness or weakness of the left or right side.

Optic Nerve Glioma

Optic gliomas can affect one or both of the optic nerves, which carry visual information to the brain from each eye. They may also affect the optic chiasm, the area where the optic nerves cross each other in front of the hypothalamus of the brain.

Mixed Glioma

A mixed glioma is often a combination of an astrocytoma and an oligodendroglioma. Mixed gliomas are generally treated for the most anaplastic (cancerous) type of cell found in the tumor.

 Hemangioblastoma

These tumors are benign, slow-growing and well-defined. They arise from cells in the linings of blood vessels.

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 Medulloblastoma

Medulloblastoma is a fast-growing, high-grade tumor. Medulloblastoma is always located in the cerebellum—the lower, rear portion of the brain. It is unusual for medulloblastomas to spread outside the brain and spinal cord.

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 Meningioma

Meningiomas are mostly benign tumors arising from the coverings of the brain and spinal cord. They represent about one-third of all primary brain tumors and occur most frequently in middle-aged women.

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Sub-Types

Atypical

Atypical tumors represent 10 to 15 percent of meningiomas. They contain proliferating cells that may be faster-growing and more likely to grow back after treatment, even after seemingly complete resection (surgical removal). Therefore, these tumors must be followed carefully for early signs of recurrence.

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Anaplastic or Malignant

Malignant or “anaplastic” tumors are poorly differentiated forms that often recur rapidly. Although they are quite rare (1 to 3 percent), malignant meningiomas can be highly aggressive and difficult to treat.

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 Metastatic Brain Tumor

A metastatic brain tumor (also known as brain metastasis or secondary brain tumor) is cancer that begins elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain. The metastatic brain tumor usually contains the same type of cancer cells found at the primary cancer site. For example, cancer cells in the lung, breast, skin, colon or kidney commonly travel to the brain through the bloodstream and cause a metastatic tumor.

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Sub-Type

Primary CNS Lymphoma

Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma (PCNSL) is a malignant tumor that is derived from white blood cells and has localized to the brain. Although a rare tumor, its incidence has been rising, in part due to an increasing number of patients who have an immunodeficiency (as in AIDS) or is induced by medications required after an organ transplant. In older age, the immune system is also less effective, giving rise to an increased incidence in an aging population.

The most common locations for CNS are the frontal lobes and regions around the ventricles of the brain. Primary CNS lymphoma is usually present in those with severe immunosuppression — commonly in those with AIDS — and represents around 20 percent of all cases of lymphomas in HIV infection. It is also highly associated with Epstein-Barr virus infection in immunodeficient patients. 

 Neuro Phakomatosis

The term phakomatoses refers to a broad group of neurologic (brain, spine and peripheral nerve) disorders that are also known as neurocutaneous syndromes. These diseases, which affect males and females equally, are lifelong conditions that can cause tumors to grow inside the brain, spinal cord, organs, skin and skeletal bones.

Sub-Types

There are two distinct types of Neurofibromatosis (NF), classified as NF I and NF II.

NF I

This is the more common of the two disorders. It is also called Von Recklinghausen's disease. The classic symptom of NF I is light brown patches of pigment on the skin, called cafe-au-lait spots. There is a high rate of brain tumors in patients associated with NF.

NF II

This type of neurofibromatosis, also known as bilateral acoustic neurofibromatosis, accounts for 2 to 5 percent of cases. This disease is characterized by tumors on the eighth cranial nerve, which can lead to hearing loss, headaches, problems with facial movements, problems with balance and difficulty walking. Other clinical signs of NF II may include seizures, neurofibromas (skin nodules) and cafe-au-lait spots (although this is not as common as in NF I).

 Oligodendroglioma

Oligodendrogliomas come from oligodendrocytes, one of the types of cells that make up the supportive, or glial, tissue of the brain. They can be low-grade (grade II) or high-grade (grade III, or anaplastic). For a diagnosis of oligodendroglioma, a chromosomal deletion of chromosomes 1p and 19q is a diagnostic requirement. These tumors have an overall better prognosis than other primary brain tumors.

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 Pineal Tumor

These tumors originate from normal cells in the pineal gland. The pineal gland is located in the center of the brain and is involved in the secretion of specific hormones.

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 Pituitary Tumors

The pituitary gland is involved in the production of several essential hormones. Tumors arising from the pituitary gland itself are called adenomas or carcinomas. Pituitary adenomas are benign, slow-growing masses that represent about 10 percent of primary brain tumors. Pituitary carcinoma is the rare malignant form of pituitary adenoma.

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 Schwannomas

Schwannoma is a benign tumor of the nerve of hearing (the eighth cranial nerve, also known as the acoustic or vestibulocochlear nerve). When schwannomas involve these nerves, they are called vestibular schwannomas or acoustic neuromas. Commonly, they present with loss of hearing and occasionally with loss of balance or problems with weakness on one side of the face.

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