What are the types of brain tumours?

doctor with brain scans

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Brain tumours are described:

  • By the type of cells that are abnormal e.g. tumours called gliomas start in glial cells in the brain
  • By how fast they are likely to grow. High-grade tumours grow faster and low-grade tumours grow more slowly

Glial and non-glial tumours

  • Glial brain tumours - gliomas
    Most adult brain tumours start in the glial cells. Glial cells are glue-like cells that keep the brain together. These tumours are called gliomas.
  • Non-glial tumours
    Non-glial tumours start in areas outside the brain tissue, for example in the nerves, the covering of the brain (the meninges) or the nearby glands, such as the pituitary or pineal gland. 

Types of gliomas


Astrocytoma is the most common type of glioma.

Astrocytomas develop from astrocyte cells. There are four grades of astrocytoma. The grade explains how abnormal the cells are and how likely it is that the cells will continue to grow and invade normal brain tissue. Astrocytomas can be slow growing (low grade) or fast growing (high grade).

Types of astrocytoma

  • Grade 1 or pilocytic astrocytoma is a slow-growing tumour that is most often benign (not cancer) and rarely spreads into nearby tissue. This is rare in adults. Depending on where it is found this unusual tumour may be cured completely by surgery alone.
  • Grade 2 or low-grade diffuse astrocytoma is a slow-growing tumour that may spread into nearby tissue and can become a higher grade.
  • Grade 3 or anaplastic astrocytoma is a malignant (cancerous) tumour that can quickly grow and spread to nearby tissues. 
  • Grade 4 or glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a very aggressive form of malignant (cancerous) astrocytoma. Grade 4 glioblastoma is the most common type of glioma in adults.

Other types of gliomas 

There are other, rarer, types of glioma cancers such as oligodendroglioma, mixed glioma and ependymoma.  Call our Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre if you want to know more about these rarer cancers. 

Types of non-glial tumours


A meningioma is a common type of primary brain tumour. These tumours begin in the meninges (the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord).

  • Around 2 in every 3 meningioma tumours are grade 1 
  • Around 1 in 3 is grade 2 

Grade 2 meningiomas are more likely to come back after surgery and may need further treatment. Grade 3 meningiomas are very rare. Meningiomas can cause serious symptoms if they grow and press on the brain or spinal cord or grow into the brain tissue.

Other types of non-glial tumours

There are other, rarer, types of non-glial tumours such as pituitary gland tumours, pineal tumours, medulloblastomas, craniopharyngiomas and vestibular schwannomas (VS).

Call our Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre if you want to know more about the different types of tumour. You can also look at our booklet Understanding Brain Tumours

For more information

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1800 200 700

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