This week is International Brain Tumour Awareness Week. About 11,400 people in the UK are diagnosed with primary brain or central nervous system (CNS) tumours a year. The brain and the CNS can be complicated and daunting things to understand, and tumours in this area may seem an overwhelming topic. In this blog, our intern Molly goes over what brain tumours are.

What is the central nervous system and what does it do?

The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. The brain controls how we think, feel, learn and move. It also controls other things in the body we don’t have to think about, like breathing. The spinal cord is made up of nerves that run down the spine. Messages between the brain and other parts of the body travel through the spinal cord.

Main areas of the brain

This image is an illustration of a side view of the brain, inside the skull. The Cerebrum, the biggest part of the brain, is inside the bones of the skull. The Pituitary gland is behind the nose, just below the base of the brain. The Pineal gland is near the centre of the brain, between the two halves of the Cerebrum. The Cerebellum is below the Cerebrum, at the back of the brain. The brain stem is at the bottom of the brain and connected to the spinal cord. The spinal cord goes from the centre of the brain, down the neck.

Cerebrum  this is the largest part of the brain. It controls thinking, memory, behaviour, and personality. Cerebellum – this controls balance and co-ordination. Brain stem – this controls important body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature. Pituitary gland – this makes hormones that control other hormone-producing glands in the body. Pineal gland – this makes a hormone called melatonin, which helps control sleep patterns.

What are primary brain tumours?

A tumour that starts in the brain is called a primary brain tumour. These can be benign (not cancerous), which usually grow slowly and may not cause symptoms for a long time. They can also be malignant (cancerous), which grow faster than benign tumours, and can cause problems by spreading into and damaging the brain.

Often, brain tumours are described in terms of their type and how quickly they grow, which is called its grade. There are a lot of different types of brain tumour. You can find more information about specific brain tumours on our website.

Diagnosing brain tumours

If your GP thinks you may have a brain tumour, they may arrange for you to have a brain scan. They might refer you directly to a doctor who specialises in brain disorders (a neurologist). We have more information about how brain tumours are diagnosed on our website, or in our resources on brain tumours, which are available to order free in various formats, here.

If you are diagnosed with a brain tumour, your doctor will advise you on the best treatment options for your situation. You may find it useful to read experiences or talk to other people who have been affected by brain tumours in this Macmillan Online Community group. You could read Vivek’s story to learn about his brain tumour diagnosis, and how he copes with it.

This image shows a quote from Vivek, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006. He says You can’t spend too much time thinking about it. When you’re in the middle of it, you have to just look forward and try to deal with it as best you can.

If you have any more questions about brain tumours, remember you can call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm. 

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