Brain cancer can cause various symptoms depending on where your tumor develops. Some early symptoms can include headaches, personality or behavioral changes, and seizures.

Brain tumors can be cancerous or noncancerous. Even noncancerous tumors can cause symptoms when they compress healthy brain tissue. Symptoms tend to get worse over time as the tumor gets bigger.

Some symptoms, such as seizures or headaches, develop due to increased pressure inside your skull. Other symptoms develop due to compression of specific regions of your brain. For example, you might have visual changes due to the compression of the occipital lobe or optic nerve.

Read on to learn more about the early and late symptoms of brain cancer.

How common is brain cancer?

Brain cancer and other nervous system cancers make up about 1.3% of cancers in the United States. An estimated 25,400 people receive a diagnosis of brain and other nervous system cancer each year.

About 78% of brain cancers are glioma, a group of cancers that develop in the cells that support the neurons in your brain.

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Brain cancer symptoms often develop gradually over months to years. However, some fast-growing tumors can cause the progression of symptoms over days to weeks.

Rapidly growing tumors are more likely to cause symptoms than slow-growing tumors since your brain has time to adapt to slow growths.

Symptoms caused by increased brain pressure

As your tumor grows larger, it can cause pressure to build in your brain. This pressure can cause many symptoms, such as:

Most of these symptoms have many different causes, which can lead to misdiagnosis. For example, nausea and vomiting might be related to gastrointestinal conditions, and loss of vision may be mistaken for an eye problem.

Symptoms caused by compression of certain brain regions

Brain cancer can cause many focal neurological symptoms depending on where your tumor forms. Focal neurological symptoms are those caused by compression of a specific brain region.

People with focal neurological symptoms typically receive a diagnosis quickly, as doctors are most likely to suspect a brain tumor in people with these symptoms. Here are some symptoms that may arise for various types of tumors.

Brain regionSymptoms
Frontal lobe• vision problems
• weakness
• walking problems
loss of smell
• personality changes
• behavioral changes
Temporal lobe• short-term memory loss
• speaking or hearing problems
speech impediment
Parietal lobe• trouble speaking
• problems reading or writing
• loss of sensation in a certain body part
• loss of movement ability in a certain body part
Occipital lobe• changes in vision
• difficulty identifying colors and size of objects
Cerebellum• dizziness
• nausea and vomiting
• involuntary movements like flickering eyes
• loss of balance or coordination
Brain stem• trouble swallowing
• vision changes
• trouble walking or moving
Pituitary gland• weight gain
• infertility
• diabetes
• high blood pressure
• delayed puberty, in children
• delayed growth, in children and adolescents
• headaches
• nausea and vomiting
sleep disturbance

Psychiatric symptoms

Psychiatric symptoms are thought to occur in more than half of people with brain tumors. They can occur by themselves or together with focal neurological symptoms.

Psychiatric symptoms can include:

  • hallucinations
  • apathy
  • slowness of thought
  • mania
  • depression
  • memory problems
  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • psychosis

When to seek medical help

It’s important to seek medical attention if you develop unusual and persistent health problems, especially if they’re getting worse.

Most brain cancer symptoms have many other causes, but it’s still important to receive an accurate diagnosis.

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Late symptoms of brain cancer can be similar to early symptoms, but they tend to get worse as the cancer grows larger. They can include:

Brain cancer and other nervous system cancers in the United States had a 5-year relative survival rate of 33.4% from 2014 to 2020. The 5-year relative survival rate is a measure of how many people with the cancer are alive 5 years later compared with people without the cancer.

The chances of survival largely depend on what type of brain cancer you have. Survival or outlook is also generally better when the cancer is diagnosed at a younger age.

Here’s a look at the 5-year relative survival rate of 7 types of brain cancer in the United States from 2001 to 2015:

TypeAge 20 to 44Age 45 to 54Age 55­ to 64
Ependymoma/anaplastic ependymoma92%90%87%
Anaplastic oligodendroglioma76%67%45%
Low-grade (diffuse) astrocytoma73%46%26%
Anaplastic astrocytoma58%29%15%

Other factors associated with reduced outlook include:

  • decreased ability to carry out daily activities
  • multiple tumors
  • high tumor grade, meaning the tumor is predicted to grow quickly

Brain cancer can cause many different symptoms depending on where in your brain it develops. Headaches, seizures, and problems with movement and sensation are among the most common early symptoms.

Symptoms tend to get progressively worse as your tumor grows and compresses healthy brain tissue.

It’s important to see a doctor if you have potential brain cancer symptoms, even if they have more likely causes.