Read about what brain tumours are, types of brain tumours, risk factors for brain tumours and symptoms of brain tumours.

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Understanding Brain Tumours booklet 2022
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Download Section One of our brain tumour booklet: Understanding brain tumours

  • The brain is the control centre of the body. It helps us to think, feel, learn,
    and move. It also controls our memory, personality, and behaviour, and
    helps regulate important body functions such as breathing and heart rate.
  • A brain tumour is the growth of abnormal cells in a part of the brain.
  • Primary brain tumours may spread to other parts of the nervous system
    but do not usually spread to other parts of the body.
  • Symptoms depend on how slowly or quickly the tumour grows and where it is in the brain.

  • Ko te pū whakahaere o te tinana te roro. Ka āwhina i a tātou ki te
    whakaaro, ki te rongo, ki te ako me te nekeneke haere. He whakahaere
    anō hoki i ō tātou pūmahara, ō tātou tuakiri, o tātou whanonga me tōna
    āwhina ki te whakarite i ētahi mahinga nui o te tinana pērā ki te mahi
    whakahā, me te tere o te manawa.
  • Ko te tipu o ngā pūtau tino rerekē ki tētahi wāhi o te roro, te puku roro.
  • Tērā pea ka hōrapa haere ētahi puku roro ki ētahi atu wāhi o te pūnaha
    io tōpū engari, i te nuinga o te wā, kīhai e hōrapa ki wāhi kē o te tinana.
  • Ka hāngai ngā tohumate ki te pōturi, ki te tere rānei o te tipu o te puku, me te wāhi e tau ana ki roto i te roro.
Section 1

What is a brain tumour?

A brain tumour is a growth of abnormal cells in a part of the brain. The growth is known as a tumour. Brain tumours can be primary or metastatic, depending on where they start.

Primary brain tumour

A brain tumour that starts in the brain is called a primary brain tumour. Primary brain tumours may spread to other parts of the nervous system, but do not usually spread to other parts of the body.

Metastatic (secondary) brain tumour

Metastatic brain tumours are made up of cancer cells that start in another part of the body. For example, lung cancer that spreads to the brain is called lung cancer with brain metastases.

This page is about primary brain tumours. For more information about cancer that has spread to the brain, please see the Cancer Society's page on advanced cancer.

What is the brain?

The brain is the control centre of the body. It helps us to think, feel, learn and move. It also controls our memory, personality and behaviour and helps regulate important body functions, such as breathing and heart rate.

How is the brain connected to the rest of the body?

The brain is connected to the rest of the body by the spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are known as the central nervous system (CNS). The nerves from the spinal cord send messages back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. 

The main parts of the brain are the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, cranial nerves, and pituitary and pineal glands.

What are the risk factors for a brain tumour?

Things that can increase your chances of developing cancer are called risk factors.

Risk factors that we know make some people more at risk of a brain tumour than others include:

  • age — most types of primary brain tumour are more common in older people
  • gender — men are more likely than women to develop most types of primary brain tumour
  • inherited or genetic conditions — some brain tumours are more common in people with certain rare inherited or genetic conditions, such as neurofibromatosis and Lynch syndrome
  • previous radiation treatment to the head

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?

Symptoms depend on how slowly or quickly the tumour grows, and where it is in the brain.

They may include:

  • weakness in part of the body
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • feeling sleepy (drowsy)
  • changes in memory
  • personality or behaviour changes
  • changes in thinking, including difficulty in recognising words
  • changes in speech or vision
  • blackouts, or a fit known as a seizure, which can be severe (body convulsion) or mild (a brief disturbance of awareness or sensation, or jerking muscles).

As a tumour grows it takes up more space in the skull and pushes on the brain. This results in swelling (oedema), which can affect the supply of blood and oxygen to healthy brain cells. It is known as raised intracranial pressure and can lead to symptoms such as:

  • headaches — often worse when you wake up in the morning
  • feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)

These symptoms can all be caused by conditions other than brain tumours. That is why it is important to have your GP or whānau doctor check any of these symptoms.

Last updated: June 20, 2022