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Brain tumours (primary) and brain metastases in adults

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Last updated:10th Jul 2018

This guideline covers diagnosing, monitoring and managing any type of primary brain tumour or brain metastases in people aged 16 or over. It aims to improve diagnosis and care, including standardising the care people have, how information and support are provided, and palliative care.

It is estimated there are around 10,000 new cases of primary brain tumours per year. These tumours come from the brain tissue or its coverings – the meninges. Malignant high-grade gliomas (anaplastic gliomas and glioblastomas) and pre-malignant low-grade gliomas come from the brain tissue glial cells, and make up over 60% of primary brain tumours. Meningiomas make up a further 30%. Although often thought benign, meningiomas can have an acute presentation and are associated with significant long-term neurological morbidity. Because of this, they can behave in a malignant fashion in terms of recurrence and impact.

Over 60% of people with primary brain tumours present at, and are diagnosed by, accident and emergency services rather than from conventional GP or specialist referral. This causes a significant demand on these services. Although primary malignant brain tumours represent only 3% of all cancers, they result in the most life-years lost of any cancer. There is concern that the true incidence of these tumours is rising.

Cancers that have spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body are called secondary brain tumours, or brain metastases. Many different cancer types can spread to the brain, with lung and breast cancers being the most common. More people with systemic cancers are surviving longer and are referred to neuroscience multidisciplinary teams for management of their brain metastases. The number of people needing assessment for cranial treatment is now over 10,000 per year in the UK and rising.

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