Brain cancer symptoms
Symptoms depend on where the tumour is in the brain and how slowly or quickly the tumour is growing. Symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually over time.
Many symptoms are likely to be caused by other medical conditions, but see your doctor about any new, persistent or worsening symptoms.
Learn more about:
Brain tumours can increase pressure inside the skull (known as intracranial pressure). Pressure can build up because the tumour is taking up too much space, is causing brain swelling or is blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain (see Having a shunt).
Increased pressure inside the skull can lead to symptoms such as:
- headaches – often worse when you wake up
- nausea and vomiting – often worse in the morning or after changing position (e.g. moving from sitting to standing)
- confusion and irritability
- blurred or double vision
- seizures (fits) – might cause some jerking or twitching of your hands, arms or legs, or affect the whole body
- weakness in parts of the body
- poor coordination
- loss of consciousness
- difficulty speaking or finding the right words.
Symptoms caused by the position of the tumor
Other symptoms depend on where the tumour is located in the brain or spinal cord – see below for more on this.
Common tumour symptoms
The symptoms you experience will depend on where the tumour is in the brain or spinal cord. See above for general symptoms caused by pressure in the skull.
Part of the brain
Symptoms of tumours starting in the nerves in the brain will depend on the affected nerve. The most common nerve tumours are vestibular schwannomas (acoustic neuromas), which cause deafness and loss of balance.
Podcast: The Thing About Cancer
A/Prof Lindy Jeffree, Neurosurgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Emma Daly, Neuro-oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cabrini Health, VIC; A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Victorian Gamma Knife Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Department of Neurosurgery, Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Beth Doggett, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Eng-Siew Koh, Radiation Oncologist, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Andy Stokes, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.