There are many types of brain cancer. Survival rates vary greatly based on the type of cancer you have. Other factors like tumor grade, location, and size, along with your age and overall health also play a role in brain cancer outlook.

A brain tumor is a collection of cells in your brain that grow uncontrollably. Tumors can be either noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). This article focuses on malignant brain tumors.

While brain cancer can sometimes be removed completely with surgery, it can also be challenging to treat. Additionally, your outlook with a brain cancer diagnosis varies widely based on the type of brain cancer you have.

There are many different types of brain cancers, with some being more common than others.

Gliomas are a group of cancers that happen in glial cells, a type of cell that supports the nerve cells (neurons) in your brain. These cancers make up about 30% of brain cancers in adults and 50% of brain cancers in children.

Astrocytomas, which start in cells called astrocytes — a type of glial cell — can be broken down into two types based on how aggressive they are:

  • Low-grade astrocytomas, such as pilocytic or diffuse astrocytomas, are less aggressive.
  • High-grade astrocytomas, such as anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastomas, are more aggressive.

Other types of gliomas include oligodendrogliomas and ependymomas. Some of these tumors can also be aggressive (anaplastic) as well.

Some other types of brain cancers include meningiomas, which are more common in adults, and embryonal tumors like medulloblastomas, which are more common in children.

Survival for brain cancer varies based on the type of cancer a person has as well as their age. The table below shows 5-year survival rates for common types of adult and childhood brain cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Cancer type5-year survival: childhood5-year survival: ages 20–445-year survival: ages 45–545-year survival: ages 55–64
Pilocytic astrocytomaAbout 95%
Diffuse astrocytomaAbout 80–85%73%46%26%
Anaplastic astrocytomaAbout 25%58%29%15%
GlioblastomaAbout 20%22%9%6%
OligodendrogliomaAbout 90%90%82%69%
Anaplastic oligodendroglioma76%67%45%
Ependymoma or anaplastic ependymomaAbout 75%92%90%87%
MedulloblastomaAbout 60–65%

Brain metastases

Sometimes cancer from another part of the body can spread to the brain. This is called brain metastasis.

According to the National Cancer Institute, most brain metastases occur due to lung cancer. Other cancers that often spread to the brain include:

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Where possible, surgery is used to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible. Many less aggressive brain cancers and brain metastases can be removed.

Following surgery, your doctor may recommend further treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This helps to remove any remaining cancer cells and prevent the cancer from coming back.

Depending on tumor size and location, surgery may not be possible. In this situation, other treatments may be used such as:

There are several factors that can influence your outlook when you’ve received a brain cancer diagnosis.

Cancer type

Your outlook can vary depending on the type of brain cancer you have. For instance, certain types of brain cancer may be less aggressive or more easily removed with surgery than others.


Grade is a measure of how aggressive a cancer is. If you have a low grade tumor, which means it grows more slowly, you generally have a better outlook than if you receive a diagnosis of a high grade tumor, which grows and spreads more quickly.

Tumor location and size

Tumors in certain locations may affect function in vital brain areas, such as those involved in thinking, speaking, movement, or taking in sensory information.

A larger tumor may be more likely to interfere with brain function. Large tumors can also press on surrounding tissue or increase pressure around your brain, leading to symptoms like headache, nausea, or drowsiness.

The size and location of a brain tumor also help determine if it can be safely removed with surgery. Large tumors or those located deep in the brain are harder to surgically remove.

Surgical removal

Your outlook is typically better if a tumor can be completely removed with surgery. It’s less positive when cancer cells remain after surgery.


The presence of certain genetic changes can signal that a cancer may be more aggressive or is more likely to come back after treatment.

Overall health

The effects of cancer and its treatment can be hard on your body. As such, your outlook is typically improved if you’re already in overall good health when you receive your diagnosis.


The survival rate for brain cancer tends to decline as you get older.

Brain cancer presents several unique treatment challenges. For example, your brain controls your body’s essential functions. As such, some brain tumors may be challenging to safely operate on or completely remove during surgery based on where they’re located in your brain.

Another challenge is the blood-brain barrier, a natural barrier in the blood vessels of your central nervous system (CNS). Its function is to allow essential nutrients into your CNS while restricting entry to potentially harmful substances.

Some types of cancer drugs that are administered into the bloodstream cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. As such, this limits the types of drugs that can be used to treat brain cancer.

Lastly, the genetics and microenvironment of brain tumors are complex. Additional research is needed to further understand which treatments may be most effective for different types of tumors.

Overall, treating brain cancer can be challenging. Depending on a tumor’s location and size, it may be possible to surgically remove a brain tumor completely. Larger brain tumors or those deep inside brain tissue may be more difficult to surgically remove.

Your outlook with a brain cancer diagnosis can depend on many factors, including the type of brain tumor, its grade, and whether it can be operated on. Age and overall health also play a role.

You can talk with your care team about your individual outlook.