The body is made up of many types of cells. Each type of cell has special functions. Most cells in the body grow and then divide in an orderly way to form new cells as they are needed to keep the body healthy and working properly. When cells lose the ability to control their growth, they divide too often and without any order. The extra cells form a mass of tissue called a tumor in the U.S. Each year, more than 69,000 people find out they have a brain tumor. Tumors are benign or malignant.
Benign brain tumors do not contain cancer cells. Usually these tumors can be removed, and they are not likely to recur. Benign brain tumors have clear borders. Although they do not invade nearby tissue, they can press on sensitive areas of the brain and cause symptoms.
Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. They interfere with vital functions and are life-threatening. Malignant brain tumors are likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the tissue around them. Like a plant, these tumors may put out “roots” that grow into healthy brain tissue. If a malignant tumor remains compact and does not have roots, it is said to be encapsulated. When an otherwise benign tumor is located in a vital area of the brain and interferes with vital functions, it may be considered malignant (even though it contains no cancer cells).
Doctors refer to some brain tumors by grade – from low grade (grade I) to high grade (grade IV). The grade of a tumor refers to the way the cells look under a microscope. Cells from higher grade tumors are more abnormal looking and generally grow faster than cells from lower grade tumors; higher grade tumors are more malignant than lower grade tumors.