The risk of developing a malignant brain tumor is fairly low: less than 1% for most people. Your risk may increase as you age, if you’ve undergone radiation therapy, or if you have a family history of brain tumors.

There are more than 100 types of primary brain tumors, which are tumors that originate in or around the brain. Some tumors can develop slowly and take years to cause symptoms. Other tumors can be aggressive and grow very quickly.

Some types of brain tumors are benign, which means they don’t have cancerous cells. Even if a brain tumor is benign, it can still press on brain tissue and cause symptoms. Other types of brain tumors are malignant, which means they’re cancerous.

Brain tumors are rare. Overall, a person has less than a 1% chance of developing a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in their lifetime.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 24,000 people in the United States will have a malignant brain tumor diagnosed in 2023. The most common type of malignant brain tumor is a glioblastoma.

According to the National Brain Tumor Society, benign primary brain tumors are more common in females (64.4%), and malignant primary brain tumors are more common in males (55.8%).

Additionally, brain tumors are more common as you age. More than 80% of all primary brain tumors are diagnosed in people older than 40 years. The average age for brain tumor diagnosis is 61 years.

About 14.3% of brain tumors are diagnosed in people between 15 and 40 years of age, and only about 3.9% of all brain tumors are diagnosed in children under 14 years.

Regarding ethnicities, research demonstrates that Black people have the highest rate of brain tumors overall, while people who are white have the highest rate of malignant brain tumors in the United States. People of Hispanic ethnicity have the highest survival rate for most types of brain tumors.

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, using the terms “female” and “male” to define individuals in statistical research.

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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Are brain tumors becoming more common?

In the United States and around the world, the largest generation, the baby boomer generation, is aging. This generational shift is expected to increase the number of people who have age-related health conditions diagnosed.

Brain tumors are linked to aging, and, with more older Americans than before, it’s predicted that the prevalence of brain tumors will rise in the years to come. A 1.5% increase is predicted by 2030, which means that the number of malignant brain tumors diagnosed will rise to a projected 30,000 people per year.

Risk factors for a brain tumor include the following:

The cause of a brain tumor is often unknown, but researchers do know that brain tumors begin as cells that undergo a change in their DNA. As a result of the change, they don’t behave like healthy cells and don’t grow or die as typical cells do. It’s possible for these DNA changes to be passed down through families, but this is rare.

Because these cells behave differently, they often grow out of control, which causes a mass of cells — a tumor — to form in the brain.

As the tumor grows, it can put pressure on the surrounding brain tissue, brain fluid, and the skull. This action can cause intracranial pressure, which can lead to various symptoms and signs such as headaches, seizures, vision changes, and cognitive issues.

Brain tumor types are determined by the cells inside a brain tumor. Common types of brain tumors include:

  • Gliomas and related brain tumors: Glial cells surround the nerve cells in the brain and help nerve cells function. When these cells grow out of control, a mass called a “glioma” is formed. Gliomas in children may grow slowly, or, in adults, they may grow rapidly. Types of gliomas and related brain tumors include:
  • Choroid plexus tumors: Choroid plexus tumors are located in the fluid chambers of the brain and are more common in children.
  • Germ cell tumors: Germ cell tumors are most common in the reproductive glands, but they can also grow in the brain near the pituitary gland. Germ cell tumors can include pineal tumors, which are typically benign and develop around the pineal gland in the center of the brain.
  • Embryonal tumors: Embryonal tumors are the most common malignant tumors in children. These tumors develop in embryonic cells that are left over from fetal development and stay in the brain after birth.
  • Meningiomas: Meningiomas are tumors that develop in the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. These tumors are often benign.
  • Nerve tumors: Nerve tumors can grow in and around nerves in the brain. An acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor located on the nerve that connects the brain with the inner ear, is the most common type.

The symptoms of a brain tumor vary depending on the tumor’s size, type, and location.

The most common symptom of a brain tumor is a headache. While headache-related symptoms vary, these headaches tend to get worse with time and may be different from previous headaches you’ve had.

A headache is very seldom the only symptom of a brain tumor. As many as one-half of all people with a brain tumor will experience a seizure, which may sometimes be the first symptom of a brain tumor.

In addition to worsening headaches and seizures, other symptoms of a brain tumor may include:

  • personality changes
  • blurry vision, double vision, or other vision changes
  • nausea or vomiting
  • drowsiness or fatigue
  • issues with balance or coordination
  • confusion and memory issues
  • trouble speaking or following directions

The survival rate of a brain tumor depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • the type of tumor
  • where the tumor is located
  • your age
  • how early the tumor was diagnosed
  • your overall health and whether you have other chronic health conditions

The average relative 5-year survival rate for all types of brain tumors — both benign and cancerous — is 76%, but this changes based on whether the tumor is cancerous, what type of tumor it is, and your age. For example:

  • Benign brain tumors: The relative 5-year survival rate is 91.8%.
  • Malignant brain tumors: The relative 5-year survival rate after diagnosis is 35.7%.
  • Glioblastoma: The relative 5-year survival rates for the most common primary malignant brain tumor are:
    • 22% for people under the age of 44 years
    • 9% for people 45–54 years
    • 6% for people older than 55 years

Brain tumors are a fairly rare type of cancer. Fewer than 100,000 Americans have brain tumors diagnosed each year, and the majority of these tumors are benign, which means they’re not cancerous.

Brain tumors are more common as you get older, with the average age at diagnosis being around 61 years. As the American population ages, the number of brain tumors that are diagnosed each year is expected to rise.

If you have any concerning symptoms, such as ongoing or worsening headaches, seizures, or vision changes, be sure to talk with a doctor. While the symptoms of a brain tumor can be similar to those of other conditions, it’s important to have your condition diagnosed and get the appropriate treatment.