Brain Tumor vs. Brain Cancer: What’s the Difference?

Broadly speaking, a brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in your brain, but did you know that not all brain tumors are brain cancer? Brain tumors come in two varieties: Malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous). Both types can exhibit many of the same symptoms such as seizures, headaches, paralysis, memory loss, or speech difficulties. Benign tumors can grow, but do not spread, whereas malignant tumors can spread cancerous cells to other parts of the brain. 

Brain Tumor vs. Brain Cancer: Diagnosis

Because the manifestation of each type of brain tumor can share so many symptoms, doctors are not able to determine the type of brain tumor based on the patient’s symptoms alone. An MRI scan will allow doctors to positively identify the type of a brain tumor most of the time, but frequently a biopsy will be required before your doctors can know for sure whether your brain tumor is a cancerous malignant brain tumor (i.e. brain cancer) or not. A biopsy can be done during the surgery to remove the tumor, or by drilling a small hole in the skull and inserting a needle to remove a sample of tissue that can be sent to a lab for testing. The complexity and variety of brain tumors means that your diagnosis may require a number of different doctors working in separate specialities to determine.

Brain Tumor vs. Brain Cancer: Treatment

There are over 120 types of brain and spinal cord tumors, and each tumor is unique, so treatment will be different for each individual patient. Some benign tumors may not need to be surgically treated at all, or for many years. Malignant cancerous brain tumors are more dangerous because they grow quickly and threaten surrounding brain tissue. Treatment is likely to include surgical intervention, as well as radiation, chemotherapy as well as innovative techniques.

Brain Tumor vs. Brain Cancer: Recurrence

Both benign brain tumors and malignant brain cancers are able to regrow, though patients with benign brain tumors are less likely to experience a recurrence. The speed at which a brain tumor grows, or regrows, can vary greatly, and it’s important to work with your treatment team to monitor any changes and catch a recurrence quickly. 

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