You’re watching a Netflix tearjerker in which the main character succumbs to a brain tumour (no doubt gracefully and heroically), when you’re suddenly distracted by this thought: Hey, wait a minute, I’ve got some of the same symptoms they had! And zoom, you spin down a rabbit hole of worry, wondering if your headache/nausea/fuzziness was caused by last night’s too-much-wine or if you should call a doctor, fast. And when you hit Dr Google, you worry even more when myriad websites call out a long list of twitches, aches, and sensations as potential brain-cancer symptoms. Which only increases your headache and fuzziness!

We can dispel some of that confusion with the help of neuro-oncologist Dr Alyx B Porter. She explains the most common symptoms of a brain tumour.

First, know that brain tumours are very rare

Not to dismiss anyone’s concerns, but there’s a good reason to pull yourself out of that worry spiral: Your lifetime risk of developing a malignant brain or spinal cord tumour is less than 1%. And when primary brain tumours do happen (“primary,” meaning tumours that haven’t metastasised from somewhere else), two-thirds of them aren’t cancerous. In terms of who’s at risk of brain cancer, “The only known risk factors are exposure to radiation and/or a family history with genetic predisposition to certain tumours or cancers,” says Dr Porter.

Here, the most common symptoms of a brain tumour

Of all of these symptoms, says Dr Porter, “Seizure is the most common, followed by weakness or numbness in a limb, then progressive headache that doesn’t respond to medications or is new, then difficulty with language comprehension or expression.”


This is a no-brainer: If you have a seizure and you don’t have a known disorder that causes them, Dr Porter says that’s a definite signal to talk to a doc.

Weird sensations in your limbs

A gradual loss of sensation or mobility in a limb, over a period of days or weeks, or weakness in a limb, is a potential symptom of a brain tumour as well, says Dr Porter.


We all get head-bangers from time to time. But you should pay attention if you’re suddenly getting headaches more frequently than is typical for you, if they’re worse than you’ve ever had, or if the head-pounding isn’t responding to whatever remedies you usually turn to. This is a common symptom, according to Dr Porter.

Difficulty understanding people

Suddenly having trouble comprehending what people are saying or expressing your own thoughts? That may be a symptom, says Dr Porter. This sort of cognitive change may also present itself as difficulty in reading or writing.

Vision issues

Dr Porter says a change in your vision is another common symptom of a brain tumour. So if things suddenly look all blurry, or you have double vision or notice a problem with your peripheral vision, those are warning signs to pay attention to.

Less-common symptoms of a brain tumour

These three things are sometimes mentioned as symptoms, but they’re rare, according to Dr Porter:

  • Changes in balance: Are you suddenly losing balance when you haven’t before, or are you having difficulty walking? It makes sense to check it out.
  • Fuzziness or confusion: If you’re having trouble remembering or focusing on everyday things, there’s a slight chance that could be a symptom. Keep in mind, though, that brain fog can be a symptom of so many things, including stress, lack of sleep, and menopause.
  • Sudden personality changes: Becoming suddenly aggressive or sluggish, for instance, would be a rare symptom of a brain tumour.

If you’re still worried about a brain tumour

“I recommend a consultation with a doctor when symptoms arise outside of your usual experience with your health,” says Dr Porter. “At the very least, a baseline assessment can provide significant value should changes occur in the future. “

Remember that any of the symptoms above could be (and probably are) due to something else entirely and don’t necessarily mean you have brain cancer. That said, it’s important to take it seriously when your body is giving you a new signal that something might be off, even if it simply means that you need to chill out more, get better sleep, or have fewer of those too-much-wine evenings.