It’s Actually Not Called “Brain Cancer”

From James:

So Young has a brain tumor, but it would generally not be referred to as “brain cancer.” I didn’t learn this until a few months ago, when I asked one of her doctors, and he set me straight. I think it’s pretty natural to think “brain cancer” when you hear that somebody has a brain tumor, but not all brain tumors are accurately described as brain cancer. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I wrote last night describing the difference:

It’s kind of a technical distinction, but basically there are four grades of astrocytoma brain tumors. Grades 1 and 2 are slow-growing and never referred to as “brain cancer.” Grades 3 and 4 are fast-growing, and some medical people call them brain cancer, but not everybody in the field thinks that language is correct. Some people call grades 3 and 4 cancer because they spread throughout the brain (but never anywhere else in the body). Others disagree and say that cancer by definition is a disease that spreads throughout the body, which is never true of tumors that originate in the brain. Spreading within the brain doesn’t count, they say.

So Young has a grade 2 astrocytoma. It may become a grade 3 or 4 some day, but God willing it will not. Grade 2 is still dangerous and life-threatening, but it is not called brain cancer.

This is not to be confused with the “stages” of other types of cancer. There is no notion of stages of brain tumors. However, some types of cancer, in “stage 4,” can spread to the brain. So Young doesn’t have this type of brain tumor, since she doesn’t have cancer elsewhere.


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