Benign (Non-Cancerous) Brain Tumors

Author: Courtney Misher, MPH, BS R.T.(T)
Last Reviewed: November 02, 2023

A brain tumor is a mass of cells that have grown out of control and formed in or near your brain. Brain tumors can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Most benign tumors grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of your body. As a benign brain tumor grows, it can cause symptoms.

What are the symptoms of benign brain tumors?

Symptoms of benign brain tumors depend on where the tumor is and how big it is. Some common symptoms can include:

  • Headaches.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Seizures.
  • Trouble with balance or dizziness.
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating.
  • Mood and personality changes.
  • Changes in vision, speech, smell, and hearing.

What are the types of benign brain tumors?

There are many types of benign brain tumors. Often, imaging tests and a biopsy are done to find out what kind of tumor you have. Some types of benign brain tumors are:

  • Meningiomas: These tumors start in the meninges, which are the outer layers of tissue that protect your brain and spinal cord. This is the most common type of brain tumor.
  • Schwannomas: These tumors start in Schwann cells which surround the nerve cells outside of the brain and spinal cord. Vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) are the most common type. They are slow-growing tumors of the nerve that connect your ear to your brain.
  • Pituitary adenomas: These tumors start from the pituitary gland, which is a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain. Your pituitary gland makes hormones and regulates hormones in your body.
  • Hemangioblastomas: These are tumors of the blood vessels that supply your central nervous system including the brain, spine, and sometimes can affect your eyes. If you have Von Hippel-Lindau disease, you are more likely to have this type of tumor.
  • Craniopharyngiomas: Tumors that grow near the pituitary gland at the base of your brain. They are most often seen in children and teenagers but can be seen in adults too.
  • Gliomas: Tumors that start in the glial cells in your brain, which support nerve cells and hold brain tissue together. Gliomas can be malignant or benign. Gliomas are “graded” from 1 to 4 with 4 being the most aggressive. Grade 1 and 2 gliomas are usually benign.

What treatments are used for benign brain tumors?

Treatment for your benign brain tumor will depend on many factors such as the type of tumor, where it is, how big it is, your age, and if the tumor is causing symptoms. The most common treatments for benign brain tumors are surgery and radiation. Your provider will decide the best treatment for you.

  • Surgery is the most common treatment for removing benign brain tumors. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible without hurting any healthy brain tissue. In some cases, only part of the tumor can be safely removed.
  • Radiation is commonly used if all of the tumor was removed with surgery or if it cannot be removed. Radiation can help shrink the tumor. Benign tumors do not usually come back after surgery, but if they do radiation can be used.

If your tumor is small and isn’t causing symptoms your provider may suggest a watch-and-wait approach. If your provider sees that the tumor is getting bigger or you are having symptoms they may decide to treat it. Some tumors never need treatment.

Recovering After a Benign Brain Tumor

Benign brain tumors and their treatments can affect your daily life. You can have trouble with vision, speech, walking, etc., depending on where your tumor is or was. These problems may not go away after treatment. Many people can get back to normal activities over time. You may need to work with physical, occupational, or speech therapy to resume function. You may also need to see specialists that help with other needs such as hearing and vision.

Recurrence & Follow-Up Care

Some benign brain tumors can come back after treatment, this is called recurrence. It is important to continue your follow-up care plan. Follow-up care can include imaging (MRI), blood work, and physical examinations. Be sure to talk to your provider about any new or worsening symptoms.

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Apra, C., Peyre, M., & Kalamarides, M. (2018). Current treatment options for meningioma. Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 18(3), 241-249.

Brain tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. (n.d.).

Halliday, J., Rutherford, S. A., McCabe, M. G., & Evans, D. G. (2018). An update on the diagnosis and treatment of vestibular schwannoma. Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 18(1), 29-39.

Inoshita, N., & Nishioka, H. (2018). The 2017 WHO classification of pituitary adenoma: overview and comments. Brain tumor pathology, 35(2), 51-56.

Michaud, D., Schiff, D., & Batchelor, T. (2020). Incidence of primary brain tumors. U: UpToDate, Loeffler JS, Wen PJ ed. UpToDate [Internet].

O'steen, L., & Indelicato, D. J. (2018). Advances in the management of craniopharyngioma. F1000Research, 7.

Toms, S. A., & Tapinos, N. (2017). Recent advances in the treatment of gliomas–comprehensive brain tumor center. RI Med J, 100(6), 43-46.

Wiley, H. E., Krivosic, V., Gaudric, A., Gorin, M. B., Shields, C., Shields, J., ... & Chew, E. Y. (2019). Management of retinal hemangioblastoma in von Hippel-Lindau disease. Retina (Philadelphia, Pa.), 39(12), 2254.

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