Astrocytoma, a type of glioma, is the most common brain cancer in children. Glioblastomas are the most common in adults, excluding cancers that have spread to the brain from other parts of the body.

Doctors have reported more than 150 types of brain tumors. Tumors are classified as either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). They can also be classified as primary if they start in your brain or secondary if they spread from elsewhere.

Most brain tumors are named after the type of cells they develop in. For example, astrocytoma develops in astrocytes, cells that support neurons in your brain and spinal cord.

This article reviews the most common types of brain cancer in adults and children.

Metastatic tumors are the most common type of brain cancer in adults. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people are diagnosed with these tumors each year in the United States. Types of cancer particularly likely to spread to the brain include:

Meningiomas

Meningioma develops in the layers of tissue surrounding your brain and spinal cord collectively called the meninges. It’s diagnosed in about 1 in 11,350 people in the United States, and middle-aged women seem to be at the highest risk.

From 2016 to 2020 in the United States, meningioma made up more than 40% of brain and other central nervous system tumors, but less than 1% were cancerous.

Astrocytoma

Astrocytoma is the most common type of glioma. Glioma is a group of cancers that start in glial cells, which surround your neurons. Astrocytoma develops in star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes.

In the United States, astrocytoma develops in about 1 In 13,160 males and 1 in 18,520 females. From 2016 to 2020, tumors falling into the broad category of diffuse astrocytic and oligodendroglia tumors made up 18.6% of brain and central nervous system tumors.

The most common subtypes of astrocytoma were:

  • Diffuse astrocytoma — 1.6%
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma — 1.5%
  • Pilocytic astrocytoma — 1.2%

Learn more about astrocytoma.

Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of astrocytoma. It’s estimated to occur in 1 in 24,000 to 31,350 adults.

Glioblastoma made up 14.2% of brain and central nervous system tumors in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Learn more about glioblastoma.

Oligodendrogliomas

Oligodendroglioma is another type of glioma. It primarily develops in adults and is thought to occur in about 1 in 500,000 people.

Oligodendroglioma made up about 0.8% of brain and central nervous system tumors in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Learn more about oligodendroglioma.

Lymphoma

Central nervous system lymphoma is a rare but aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s thought to occur in 1 per 200,000 people and made up about 1.9% of brain and central nervous system tumors in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Learn more about brain lymphoma.

Ependymomas

Ependymoma is a glioma that develops in cells that line the cavities in your brain and affects about 1 in 166,670 to 344,820 people.

Cancerous ependymomas made up about 0.8% of brain and central nervous system tumors in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Pituitary tumors

Your pituitary gland is a pea-sized organ at the base of your brain that produces many hormones. Very few pituitary tumors are cancer.

In the United States from 2016 to 2020, only about 0.13% of the average of 15,616 pituitary cancers per year were cancerous.

Brain and spinal cord tumors make up about 1 in 4 childhood cancers. Below are the most common tumors in children under 19 in the United States.

Pilocytic astrocytoma

Pilocytic astrocytoma develops in about 1 in 109,890 children. It most commonly occurs in the cerebellum.

From 2016 to 2020, an average of 629 childhood cases were reported yearly in the United States.

Medulloblastoma

Medulloblastoma develops in the cerebellum in an estimated 1 in 250,000 children. An average of 250 childhood cases were reported yearly in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Ependymoma

Ependymoma develops in about 1 in 344,830 children. An average of 143 childhood cases of cancerous ependymoma were reported yearly in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Diffuse astrocytoma

Diffuse astrocytoma develops in about 1 in 416,670 children. It’s often referred to as “low-grade glioma.”

An average of 128 childhood cases were reported yearly in the United States from 2016 to 2020.

Germ cell tumors

Germ cell tumors develop in about 1 in 434,780 children. It develops in cells that normally develop into sperm or unfertilized eggs but migrate to other body parts. An average of 109 cancerous germ cell tumors were diagnosed yearly in American children from 2016 to 2020.

Learn more about germ cell tumors.

Glioblastoma

An average of 99 childhood cases of glioblastoma were reported in American children yearly from 2016 to 2020.

Here are some frequently asked questions about brain cancer.

What is the deadliest type of brain cancer?

Glioblastoma has one of the worst outlooks of any brain cancer. Half of people live less than about 10 months.

What is the life expectancy of someone with brain cancer?

The survival rate for brain cancer depends on the type of cancer you have. In the case of primary brain cancer, roughly 15% of people survive for at least 5 years.

Who’s at risk of getting brain cancer?

The most established risk factor for brain cancer is radiation exposure, most often from previous radiation therapy to the head for childhood leukemia.

How common is brain cancer?

Based on data from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, brain and other central nervous system tumors occurred in 1 in 4,030 people. Less than 30% of tumors were cancerous.

Astrocytoma is the most common type of brain cancer in children. Metastatic brain cancer is the most common type in adults.

The outlook for brain cancer varies widely based on which subtype you have. Many brain tumors aren’t cancerous and may only cause problems if they grow large.