Malignant brain tumour (brain cancer)

A malignant brain tumour (brain cancer) can invade surrounding brain tissue or spread to the spinal cord. A non-malignant or benign tumour does not. See your GP if you have tumour symptoms that don't go away, (see below). It's unlikely to be a tumour, but it's best to be sure.

About brain tumours

A malignant brain tumour is different from a benign brain tumour, which isn't cancerous and tends to grow more slowly.

Symptoms of malignant brain tumour

The symptoms of a brain tumour depend on where it is in the brain.

Common symptoms include:

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have symptoms of a brain tumour that don't go away. It's unlikely to be a tumour, but it's best to be sure.

Treatment for a malignant brain tumour

If you are diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, the health professional looking after your care will discuss treatment options with you.

Treatment for a brain tumour aims to remove as much of it as possible and try to stop it coming back.

The main treatments are:

  • surgery – a small section of skull is removed and the tumour is cut out before the piece of skull is fixed back in place
  • radiotherapy – radiation from an external machine is used to kill cancer cells after surgery
  • chemotherapy – medicine is used to kill cancer cells after surgery, or relieve symptoms if the tumour can't be removed
  • radiosurgery – lots of tiny beams of radiation are aimed at the cancer to kill it if you can't have surgery

Medicines may also be used to relieve symptoms like headaches, seizures and vomiting.


If you have a malignant brain tumour, your outlook will depend on a number of factors including:

  • your age
  • the type of tumour you have
  • where it is in your brain
  • how effective the treatment is
  • your general level of health

Survival rates are difficult to predict because brain tumours are rare and there are many different types. The hospital consultant treating you will help you to understand your treatment options and what outcome to expect.

Generally, in Northern Ireland, about 24 out of every 100 people with a malignant brain tumour will survive for five years or more after being diagnosed.

It can sometimes be cured if caught early on. But a brain tumour often comes back and it can be impossible to remove it.

Recovery and after effects

After treatment, you might have some lasting problems, such as:

  • seizures
  • difficulty walking
  • speech problems

You may need treatment and support like occupational therapy and physiotherapy to help you recover or adapt to any problems.

Having a brain tumour can also stop you doing things like driving, working and sports.

You may be able to gradually return to your normal activities as you recover. Although some things (like contact sports) may need to be avoided for life.

For more information and support, see The Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour Research and also more useful links below.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review July 2021

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