Our latest research on brain cancer

5 May 2016 | Cancer Council NSW
Brain cancer

This year in Australia, it is predicted that 1,900 people will be diagnosed with brain cancer and around 1,385 people will die from the disease. Despite improving survival rates in other types of cancer, brain cancer survival remains poor. Sadly, only around 22 per cent of people diagnosed with this cancer will survive for five years or more. 

Why are survival rates so low?

Brain cancer is one of the least understood cancer types and this makes it difficult to prevent and treat. The cause of brain tumours is relatively unknown and there are only a few known risk factors, one of which is family history. We also know that radiotherapy increases brain cancer risk, for example children who have been treated with radiotherapy for leukaemia are more likely to get brain cancer than people who haven’t received radiotherapy.

Our research on brain cancer

Recognising the urgent need to better understand this disease, Cancer Council NSW has invested nearly $8 million in brain cancer research over the last 5 years.

This research has focused on understanding of the causes of brain cancer so that we can prevent the disease from progressing, and developing new drug targets and treatments to improve the outlook for people with brain cancer.

Key research results

  • Associate Professor Geraldine O’Neill at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead has discovered that blocking a particular protein could potentially stop brain cancers from spreading. This research has provided a basis for developing drugs that can target this protein in the body and improve quality of life for brain cancer patients.
  • Dr Megan Chircop from the Children’s Medical Research Institute has found a family of compounds that have ‘anti-cancer’ powers. These compounds can kill glioblastoma cancer cells and reduce the size of the tumour more effectively than current treatments can. This research is ongoing, but the results are laying the groundwork for clinical trials for patients with this type of brain cancer.
  • Professor Philip Hogg, based at the University of Sydney, invented two molecules that target the way cancers metabolise sugar. The molecules have both been tested in clinical trials in the UK and Australia and have proved effective in treating solid tumours. In an exciting development, one of these molecules will now be tested in a clinical trial with brain cancer patients.


New funding for brain cancer research

Cancer Council NSW is committed to reducing the impact of brain cancer in our communities. We are continuing to provide new funding to outstanding brain cancer researchers like Dr Mustafa Khasraw at the University of Sydney. His project is looking at adding a drug to the brain cancer treatment mix and whether this could improve patient survival.

We have also recently funded Professor Roger Reddel from Children’s Medical Research Institute whose research could significantly help to improve survival rates across many cancer types, including brain cancer. Professor Reddel has already discovered the process cancers use to become immortal, and now he is testing drugs that stop cancer immortality.

Read more information about our brain cancer research projects.


What are the symptoms of brain cancer?

The symptoms of a brain cancer can vary and depend on where the tumour is located within the brain, but they can include:

  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • confusion and difficulty speaking or remembering words
  • disturbed vision
  • short-term memory problems and personality changes

People experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor, especially if they notice the symptoms are new or worsening.

Support for people with brain cancer

Cancer Council NSW provides up-to-date, evidence-based information for people who have questions about any aspect of cancer. People affected by brain cancer can call Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support to speak with a cancer professional.

Find more information about brain cancer.

People diagnosed with brain cancer can also access Cancer Council NSW’s extensive support services. We can help with practical issues such as transport assistance, or financial and legal advice.

People affected by cancer can connect with people who have had similar experiences through our Cancer Connect program.