Types of Primary Brain Tumors

There are more than 125 different types of brain cancer. Most brain tumors fall into one of two categories: high grade (rapidly growing) or low grade (slow growing).

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we care for patients with all types of brain tumors, but here are some of the most common ones. 


Glioma is the most common type of primary brain tumor. It develops in the glial cells, which are involved in several brain functions. There are several types of gliomas, including low-grade glioma and glioblastoma.


Glioblastoma is the most aggressive type of brain cancer in adults. The tumors start in astrocyte cells, which support your brain’s nerve cells in various ways. Glioblastomas can metastasize (spread) through brain tissue and can be difficult to remove. In recent years, doctors at MSK and elsewhere have begun to recognize distinct molecular subtypes of glioblastomas, which may in turn enable us to find new and targeted treatment approaches.

Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma

This cancer starts in your lymphatic system’s lymphocytes, which are designed to help you fight off disease and infection. Lymphocytes in your brain, eyes, spinal cord, or the three membranes that cover your brain and spinal cord (called the meninges) can become cancerous and start to grow and spread uncontrollably. PCNSL is more common in people with weakened immune systems. Central nervous system lymphoma of the eye is called ocular lymphoma.

Pineal Region Tumors

Pineal region tumors start in cells in and around the small endocrine system pineal gland located deep in your brain and responsible for secreting hormones directly into the bloodstream. These tumors can cause problems when they interfere with the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid, compress brain tissue, or interfere with hormone production. They can be low grade or high grade.

There are two main types of pineal region tumors: germ cell tumors, which start in reproductive (egg or sperm) cells in areas around the pineal gland, and pineal cell tumors, which start in pineal parenchymal cells. Gliomas can also start from glial cells in the pineal gland.

Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumors start in the epithelial cells that line your pituitary gland, which helps control the release of hormones by other glands in your endocrine system. These tumors can cause excessive production of pituitary hormones that can in turn lead to a variety of other disorders.


Meningioma starts in the membranes that surround your brain on the inside of your skull. Most meningiomas are noncancerous tumors that grow slowly, although some can become cancerous. These tumors cause seizures in about 25 percent of people.

Acoustic Neuroma

Acoustic neuroma is a type of noncancerous tumor that starts in Schwann cells, which wrap around peripheral nerves in your ear. These tumors can cause hearing and balance problems. Most grow very slowly. As an acoustic neuroma grows, it squeezes nearby nerves and blood vessels and the surfaces of the brainstem and cerebellum. This pressure can cause neurological problems.