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What are the symptoms?

Symptoms depend on where the tumour is in the brain and how slowly or quickly the tumour is growing. It can develop suddenly or gradually over time. Many symptoms are likely to be caused by other factors, but see your doctor about any new, persistent or worsening symptoms.

General symptoms – Brain tumours can increase pressure inside the skull (known as intracranial pressure). Pressure can build up because the tumour itself is taking up too much space or because it is blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain.

This increased pressure 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 have some jerking or twitching of your hands, arms or legs, or can affect the whole body
  • loss of consciousness
  • weakness in parts of the body
  • drowsiness – a later symptom.

Symptoms caused by the position of the tumour – Other symptoms depend on where the tumour is located in the brain or spinal cord.

Part of the brainSymptom
Frontal lobedifficulty with planning or organising; changes in behaviour, personality and social skills; depression or mood swings; weakness in part of the face, or on one side of the body; difficulty walking; loss of sense of smell; sight or speech problems; trouble finding the right word
Temporal lobeforgetting events and conversations; difficulty understanding what is said to you; trouble learning and remembering new information; seizures with strange feelings, smells or deja vu
Pituitary glandheadaches; loss of vision (often peripheral vision); nausea or vomiting; erection problems; less interest in sex; thyroid and other hormone changes
Brain stemcoordination problems; difficulty swallowing or speaking; double vision; facial weakness and numbness; weakness and fatigue; changes to sleep/wake patterns
Meningesheadaches; vomiting; weakness in the arms or legs; personality changes or confusion
Parietal lobeproblems with reading or writing; loss of feeling in part of the body; difficulty telling left from right; difficulty locating objects (spatial awareness)
Occipital lobeloss of all or some vision
Cerebellumcoordination and balance problems; uncontrolled eye movement; stiff neck; dizziness; difficulty speaking (staccato speech)
Spinal cordback and neck pain; numbness or tingling in the arms or legs; change to muscle tone in the arms or legs; clumsiness or difficulty walking; loss of bowel or bladder control (incontinence)

Which health professionals will I see?

Your general practitioner (GP) or another doctor will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out a tumour, you will usually be referred to a specialist, such as a neurosurgeon or neurologist. The specialist will examine you and arrange further tests. If a tumour is diagnosed, the specialist will consider your treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care.

neurosurgeondiagnoses and surgically treats diseases and injuries of the brain and nervous system
neurologistdiagnoses and treats diseases of the brain and nervous system, particularly those that do not need surgery
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
neuropathologistanalyses blood and tissue from brain or spinal cord
rehabilitation specialistrecommends and oversees treatment to help you recover movement, mobility and speech after treatment and return to daily life
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
neuropsychologistassesses people with problems in thinking or behaviour caused by illness or injury (particularly to the brain) and manages their rehabilitation
psychologist, psychiatristhelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech therapistassist with physical and practical problems, including restoring movement, mobility and speech after treatment, and recommending aids and equipment
exercise physiologistprescribes exercise to help people with medical conditions improve their overall health, fitness, strength and energy levels
palliative care specialists and nurseswork closely with the GP and cancer team to help control symptoms and maintain quality of life

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in May 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Macquarie University Hospital, NSW; Dr Lucy Gately, Medical Oncologist, Oncology Clinics Victoria, and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, VIC; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; Scott Jones, Consumer; Anne King, Neurology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Health Department, WA; Dr Toni Lindsay, Senior Clinical Psychologist and Allied Health Manager, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Elissa McVey, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Claire Phillips, Deputy Director, Radiation Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC.