Low-grade or non-malignant brain tumours Part 1 – What are they?
Did you know that there are over 130 types of brain tumour?
Brain tumours come in various shapes and sizes, each with a different prognosis depending on their type, grade and their positioning in the brain.
When we hear of a brain tumour, we automatically assume that they are cancerous – but that’s not always the case. Low-grade or non-malignant brain tumours exist too.
You’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘If a brain tumour is low-grade, what’s the big deal?’
But these tumours can have an impact on the body’s functioning as they grow larger and affect the surrounding nerves and tissues. The impact on the body can increase if the tumour isn’t diagnosed in good time, or if it’s misdiagnosed for another condition, meaning that appropriate treatment isn’t given. Therefore it’s an important condition in an area where there’s little research available.
In this three part blog series I’ll be providing information on these tumours, and I’ll be exploring:
- What low-grade or non-malignant brain tumours are
- The symptoms and treatment
- What can go wrong if they are misdiagnosed or left untreated
Plus, I’ll be sharing a case study involving one of my clients.
What is a low-grade or non-malignant tumour?
A low-grade or non-malignant tumour involves a mass of abnormal cells. These abnormal cells don’t usually invade other tissues or spread to other parts of the body like cancerous tumours can, and they don’t usually come back again if they are removed. However, sometimes they can exhibit similar characteristics to cancerous tumours, or they can progress to become cancerous later on down the line, especially if the tumour remains.
Types of low-grade brain tumour/skull-based tumours
There are many types of low-grade tumour that can develop within the skull. I’ve included a few examples below, but this is just a selection:
- Meningiomas – These tumours grow on tissues that line the brain called the meninges. Whilst most of these are non-malignant, less rarely, some can invade the surrounding tissues and grow larger. 30% – 35% of all primary brain tumours are meningioma (CBTRUS)
- Schwannomas – these are tumours of the nerve sheath (the tissue that covers the peripheral nerves which are outside the brain and spinal cord). Schwannomas include acoustic neuromas/vestibular schwannomas. These schwannomas can occur at all nerves and the most common site is at the vestibular nerve which is responsible for balance and eye movement.
- Paragangliomas/Glomous tumours – These tumours form at the base of the skull where the nerves and blood vessels pass through.
- Gliomas – These are tumours of tissues which hold and support nerve cells and fibres. They grow within the substance of the brain. There are many different types of these with varying grades.
- Pituitary tumours – These tumours grow in parts of the pituitary gland which make hormones. Almost all of these tumours are non-malignant.
This is just a selection of low-grade tumours but there are many others not listed here.
Although the tumours have different characteristics, locations, and can behave more aggressively than others, they are relatively unheard of by you, me and even health professionals.
There’s not a great deal of research into non-malignant or low-grade brain tumours and I wanted to include a statistic in this blog about how many are diagnosed in the UK each year, but I couldn’t find any. Why then am I writing a blog series on tumours that are not really heard of?
Hugh Adams at Brain Tumour Research advised us:
‘At Brain Tumour Research we campaign to change the historic lack of adequate funding for research into brain tumours. The money that has been made available has often gone toward investigating high-grade tumours meaning that low-grade tumours have been under-researched in an already under-researched area. These ‘low-grade’ tumours can have a profound impact on the quality of life for patients and their families.
It’s important to raise awareness of low-grade tumours because of the impact these tumours can have on our body, especially when they are diagnosed too late. Sadly, we are seeing more and more clients come to us with an incorrect or delayed diagnosis of a non-malignant or low-grade brain tumour, which has resulted in life-changing problems which can be physical, emotional and psychological. It’s important therefore to raise awareness of these important conditions.
Next time – I’ll be talking about the symptoms of low-grade tumours and the treatment that may be available.