Skip to content

What are the 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.

General symptoms – 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.

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
  • drowsiness
  • weakness in parts of the body
  • poor coordination
  • loss of consciousness
  • difficulty speaking or finding the right words.

Common tumour symptoms

The symptoms you experience will depend on where the tumour is in the brain or spinal cord. 

Frontal lobe

  • difficulty with planning or organising activities
  • 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
  • problems with seeing or speaking
  • trouble finding the right word

Temporal lobe

  • forgetting events and conversations
  • difficulty understanding what is said to you
  • trouble learning and remembering new information
  • seizures with strange feelings, smells or deja vu

Brain stem

  • coordination problems
  • difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • double vision
  • weakness and numbness in part of the face
  • leg and arm weakness
  • fatigue
  • changes to sleep/wake patterns

Parietal lobe

  • problems with reading or writing
  • loss of feeling in part of the body
  • difficulty telling left from right
  • difficulty locating objects around you

Occipital lobe

  • loss of all or some vision

Meninges

  • headaches
  • vomiting
  • weakness in the arms or legs
  • personality changes or confusion

Cerebellum

  • coordination and balance problems
  • uncontrolled eye movement
  • stiff neck
  • dizziness
  • difficulty speaking (staccato speech)

Spinal cord

  • back 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)

Nerve tumours

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.

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 treats diseases and injuries of the brain and nervous system; performs surgery
neurologistdiagnoses and treats diseases of the brain and nervous system, particularly those that do not need surgery; helps people manage cognitive changes and seizures
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy and targeted therapy (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
pathologist/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 your usual activities
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
neuropsychologistassesses people who have 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

Featured resources

High grade glioma - Your guide to best cancer care

Download resource

Understanding Brain Tumours

Download resource

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in May 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: 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,