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Can you fix a brain tumor?

A brain tumor diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. Some key questions people often have are: Can a brain tumor be cured? What are the treatment options? What is the prognosis? This article provides an overview of brain tumors, their treatments, and prognosis to help answer these common questions.

What are brain tumors?

Brain tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the brain. There are two main types of brain tumors:

Benign brain tumors

Benign brain tumors are non-cancerous tumors that grow slowly and often have clear borders. They rarely spread to other parts of the body. Some examples include meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, and schwannomas.

Malignant brain tumors

Malignant brain tumors are cancerous tumors that grow quickly and aggressively infiltrate surrounding brain tissue. They can spread to other parts of the brain and body. The most common malignant brain tumor is glioblastoma.

What causes brain tumors?

The exact causes of brain tumors are not fully understood. However, some factors that may increase risk include:

  • Genetic conditions like neurofibromatosis
  • Prior radiation therapy to the brain
  • Weakened immune system
  • Environmental toxins

In many cases, there is no clear cause. Brain tumor formation is a complex process involving genetic mutations and cell growth regulation issues.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

Symptoms of a brain tumor depend on the tumor type, size, and location in the brain. Some common symptoms include:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision problems
  • Changes in mood or cognition
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body

Symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time as the tumor grows. Sudden onset of severe symptoms like seizures or loss of consciousness can occur if the tumor bleeds or blocks fluid drainage.

How are brain tumors diagnosed?

If a brain tumor is suspected based on symptoms, diagnostic imaging tests are needed to confirm diagnosis. Common brain tumor diagnosis tests include:

  • MRI scan – detailed images of the brain using magnetic fields
  • CT scan – cross-sectional x-ray images of the brain
  • Angiogram – looks at blood vessels in and around the brain
  • Spinal tap – checks spinal fluid for tumor cells
  • Neurological exam – tests reflexes, balance, coordination, etc
  • Biopsy – removes a tissue sample for examination under a microscope

These tests allow precise identification of the tumor location, size, type, and stage. This information is key for proper treatment planning.

Can a brain tumor be cured?

Whether a brain tumor can be cured depends on the type of tumor and several other factors. Here is an overview:

Benign brain tumors

Many benign brain tumors like meningiomas are curable if completely removed by surgery. Even tumors in locations that only allow partial removal can be controlled long-term with radiation therapy.

Malignant brain tumors

Unfortunately, malignant tumors like glioblastomas are very difficult to cure even with aggressive treatment. Median survival ranges from 12-18 months. Long term survival over 3-5 years is rare.

Key prognostic factors

Some key factors that influence brain tumor prognosis include:

  • Tumor type and grade – high grade indicates faster growing
  • Tumor location – some areas are easier to access and remove
  • Extent of tumor removal – total is better than partial
  • Age and overall health of patient

Younger patients in good health have better outcomes.

What are the treatments for brain tumors?

There are a variety of brain tumor treatment options, which are typically used in combination:


Surgery is done to remove as much of the brain tumor as safely possible. It helps reduce symptoms and provides tissue for diagnosis. Complete tumor removal offers the best prognosis.

Radiation therapy

Focused radiation beams target the tumor and surrounding area to kill remaining abnormal cells after surgery. This helps reduce recurrence risk.


Cytotoxic drugs are administered systemically or locally to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often combined with radiation for malignant brain tumors.

Other therapies

Steroids help reduce inflammation and swelling. Antiseizure medications help control seizures. Physical and occupational therapy aid functional recovery. Clinical trials offer promising new experimental drugs.

The specific treatments recommended will depend on the individual tumor profile and patient preferences. Discuss all options thoroughly with your neuro-oncology team.

What is the prognosis and life expectancy for brain tumors?

The prognosis and life expectancy for brain tumors varies greatly depending on the tumor specifics. Some general outlooks:

Benign brain tumors

Most benign tumors like meningiomas have good long term prognosis if removed completely. Recurrence risk is low with radiation. Patients can expect normal life expectancy.

Malignant brain tumors

High grade malignant tumors like glioblastoma have poor prognosis even with treatment. Median survival is 12-18 months. Less than 25% survive 2 years. 5 year survival is only 5-10%.

Key factors affecting malignant tumor prognosis:

  • Age – younger patients tend to live longer
  • Tumor grade – higher grade indicates poorer prognosis
  • Extent of tumor removal – total removal gives best outlook
  • IDH gene mutation status – positive status indicates better prognosis

Discuss expected prognosis with your oncologist for a more personalized outlook.

Can a brain tumor come back after treatment?

Unfortunately, brain tumors can sometimes recur after initial treatment. Here are the details:

Benign brain tumors

Benign brain tumors like meningiomas have a recurrence rate of 20-40% over 10-15 years. This occurs if tumor cells are left behind and gradually grow again. Radiation after surgery helps minimize recurrence risk.

Malignant brain tumors

High grade malignant brain tumors like glioblastomas recur in over 90% of cases, usually within 6-9 months after initial treatment. This is because cancerous cells infiltrate surrounding brain tissue and are difficult to completely remove.

Monitoring for recurrence

Patients treated for brain tumors need to be closely monitored via MRI scans to check for recurrence. Frequency of monitoring depends on tumor type and risk factors. Any symptoms such as headaches or seizures also need prompt evaluation.

Treating recurrence

Treatment options for recurrent brain tumors include further surgery if possible, chemotherapy, clinical trials of new drugs, or additional radiation in selected cases. Prognosis tends to be poorer with each recurrence. Supportive palliative care can help maximize quality of life.


While many benign brain tumors can be successfully cured, malignant high grade tumors remain very challenging to treat. Early diagnosis and multimodal treatment including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy offer the best outcomes. Even with treatment, malignant brain tumor prognosis remains fairly poor. Recurrence is common and ongoing monitoring is crucial. Further research is needed to improve treatment options and prognosis for brain tumor patients.

Brain Tumor Type Prognosis Life Expectancy
Benign Meningioma Good if completely removed Normal life expectancy
Malignant Glioblastoma Poor despite treatment 12-18 months (2 year survival 25%)