Brain Tumors: Overview

What is a brain tumor?

Brain tumors are clumps of cells in the brain that are dividing incorrectly (too much or too fast).

There are many different kinds of cells that can behave this way. Some are aggressive and spread through the brain and spine. When the cells spread, we call them malignant or metastatic.

In other types of brain tumors, the cells just stay in one place, but are a problem because they are growing in the skull, an area where space is limited.

What causes brain tumors in children and young adults?

Unlike adult cancers, doctors think that brain tumors in young people are not caused by any environmental factors, but rather by a "two hit" theory. This theory implies that first the brain cells divide incorrectly, and second the body's usual process for finding and stopping this bad division doesn't work.

Who gets brain tumors?

Brain tumors seem to occur more often in children under 3 years old and in teenagers.

There are a few genetic syndromes that make brain tumors more likely, such as neurofibromatosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome. However, in most kids the cause of brain tumors is unknown.

Helpful resources for brain tumors