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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Brain cancer grading

The staging process assesses the spread of cancer beyond the origin site. Brain cancer does not behave in the same way as other cancers. Tumors may migrate within the brain, but it is very rare for primary brain tumors to spread outside of the brain, or away from the central nervous system (CNS).

Consequently, brain cancer is usually graded rather than staged. The brain tumor grading system features four distinct grades and provides your care team with an understanding of how the tumor grows. This process helps our doctors match brain cancer treatments to individual needs.

Assessing brain tumors

To determine the growth and development of tumors in the brain, doctors focus on the characteristics of the tumor and its effect on functionality. The main factors used to assess brain tumors include:

  • Size and location
  • Type of tissue or cells affected
  • Resectability (the likelihood that part or all of the tumor can be removed by surgery)
  • The spread of the cancer within the brain or spinal cord
  • The possibility the cancer has spread beyond the brain or CNS

A complete assessment will also factor in age and any brain cancer symptoms that are limiting basic functions, such as speech, hearing or movement.

Brain cancer grading is much different than staging other cancers in the body. Cancers in the lung, colon and breast are staged based on their location in the body, size, lymph node involvement, and possible spread. Tumors in the brain are graded based on how aggressive the tumor cells appear under a microscope.

The grade and resectability of the tumor will help guide treatment decisions. Surgery depends on the tumor’s accessibility (location), size, extent (spread within the brain) and the patient’s overall health (including medical history).


Last Revised: 06/27/2018

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An accurate cancer diagnosis

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