Health Check

Brain cancer: risks, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

While brain cancer isn't common, it is the leading cause of cancer death for those under 40.

Written by Sophie Jackson
Brain pathology. Close up of MRI scan images being examined by a professional male doctor while doing a medical research

Brain cancer isn’t a common type of cancer. It affects one in 111 men and one in 160 women before the age of 85.

Sadly, however, it is the leading cause of cancer death for people under the age of 40. Read on to understand brain cancer risks, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.


There are many different types of brain cancer, but they can be grouped into two main categories: benign and malignant.

Benign brain tumours are also known as non-cancerous tumours. They are slow growing and unlikely to spread, but may still require treatment if they are near parts of your brain that control vital functions. Malignant brain tumours often growth rapidly and may spread to other parts of the brain and spinal cord.

Some people also get metastatic brain tumours. This happens when cancer from other parts of the body, like the bowel or breasts, spreads to the brain.


We don’t know what causes malignant brain cancers, but there are some known risk factors.

  • Genetic predisposition: People who have a fault in their genes passed down from one of their parents.
  • Radiation: People who have had high doses of radiation to the head, usually as a result of previous cancer treatment.


Headaches are often the first sign of a brain tumour. And while there are many different reasons you might get headaches, new or worsening headaches should be reported to your doctor.

Symptoms can vary depending where in the brain the tumour is. Some symptoms of brain cancer include:

  • Seizures, these can be severe or mild
  • A change in personality, irritability or drowsiness
  • Weakness or paralysis in parts of your body
  • Changes in your balance
  • Nausea or vomiting as a result of increased pressure on the skull
  • Changes in your vision, hearing, smell or taste.


If your doctor thinks you may have a brain tumour, they may do some tests to see how different parts of your brain are working, for example, check your reflexes or muscle strength.

However, you’ll usually need an MRI or CT scan to diagnose a brain tumour, and other tests are sometimes used.


Depending on the type and stage of brain cancer, treatment may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, steroid therapy or a combination of these.

Some brain cancers can be completely removed with surgery, while for others, the aim of treatment is to slow their growth.

Do you have more questions?

If you are concerned about brain cancer, speak to your GP. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and have questions about your diagnoses or treatment plan, talk to your health care team and ask them to explain anything you don’t understand.

Medibank members with hospital cover can also call a nurse with any health question, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To speak to a Medibank Nurse call 1800 644 325.

Cancer Council Australia

Cancer Council Victoria

Written by Sophie Jackson

Previous article

Bowel cancer on the rise amongst young Aussies – could you be at risk?

Next article

Breast cancer: risks, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Related articles

Subscribe to receive the best from Live Better every week. Healthy recipes, exercise tips and activities, offers and promotions – everything to help you eat, move and feel better.

By clicking sign up I understand and agree to Medibank's privacy policy