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Although researchers don’t know exactly what causes brain tumors, they do have a general understanding of how they develop and grow. In most cases, the following steps occur as a primary brain tumor develops:

  • Genetic mutations occur in healthy cells.
  • These genetic mutations allow the cells to grow much faster than they normally would. At the same time, the mutations prevent the cells from dying when their natural life cycles are complete.
  • As the mutated cells continue to reproduce without dying, they can form a cluster or a "lesion," which is the start of a tumor.

Primary brain tumors typically develop for several months (or years) before they are detected. That’s because they tend not to produce symptoms until they are large enough to place significant pressure on the brain or spinal cord, or until they are so advanced that they interfere with the normal functioning of the part of the brain where they are located.

Metastatic brain tumors develop in a slightly different manner. With these tumors, cancer develops elsewhere in the body, such as in the breasts or the lungs. As these tumors grow, cancerous cells may separate from the initial tumor and travel to the brain through the bloodstream. Once the cancer reaches the brain, it may continue to grow and form a new tumor.

As an active member of the Adult Brain Tumor Consortium, Moffitt Cancer Center is continually conducting studies to better understand the biological mechanisms involved in the development of brain cancer. Because of our commitment to research and our dedication to translating laboratory discoveries into better care for our patients, we have also been named a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

If you have been diagnosed with brain cancer, Moffitt Cancer Center can help you determine your best course of action. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online, even if you do not have a referral. During your visit, Moffitt’s expert neuro-oncologists can help you learn more about what causes brain tumors.