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Brain & central nervous system


What is cancer of the brain and central nervous system?

Brain cancer and cancer of the central nervous system starts in the cells of the brain, spinal cord, the thick layer of protective tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges), the cerebrospinal fluid and the pituitary gland. Tumours of the CNS are often classified as having benign or malignant behaviour. Benign tumours usually grow slowly and rarely spread, whereas malignant tumours may be fast growing and spread within the brain and the spinal cord. The statistics provided in this report only include patients diagnosed with primary brain and CNS cancers, where the tumour has started in the brain and CNS. When cancer starts in another area of the body and spreads to the brain and CNS it is referred to as secondary or metastatic brain and CNS cancer.
In this Fact Sheet, statistics reported for benign brain and CNS tumours also include tumours classified as being of uncertain behaviour.

You can access further information about cancer of the brain and central nervous system, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is cancer of the brain and central nervous system?

In 2020, 1383 Victorians were diagnosed with brain and CNS cancer. Of these, there were 631 males and 747 females, representing 45.8% and 54.2% of the total Victorian brain and CNS cancer diagnoses, respectively. In 2020, 889 Victorians were diagnosed with benign brain and CNS tumours. Of these, there were 358 males and 527 females, representing 40.5% and 59.5% of the total Victorian non-malignant brain and CNS cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, benign brain and CNS cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 8 per 100,000 males and 10.3 per 100,000 females. The median age at diagnosis of benign brain and CNS cancer is 57 years in males and 59 in females (Figure 1 & 2). In 2020, 494 Victorians were diagnosed with malignant brain and CNS tumours. Of these, there were 271 males and 220 females, representing 55.2% and 44.8% of the total Victorian malignant brain and CNS cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, brain and CNS cancer classified as malignant is diagnosed at a rate of 5.7 per 100,000 males and 4.2 per 100,000 females.The median age at diagnosis of malignant brain and CNS cancer is 60 years in males and 61 in females (Figure 1 & 2).

Accounting for 1.4% of all cancers diagnosed and 3.6% of all cancer-related deaths in 2020, malignant brain and CNS cancer was the 19th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 7th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria in 2020.


Figure 1: Distribution of brain & CNS cancer incidence, including malignant tumours and those classified as benign or of uncertain behaviour, in 2020, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Figure 2: Distribution of brain and CNS cancer incidence, including malignant tumours and those classified as benign or of uncertain behaviour, in 2020, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2020, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Brain and CNS cancer morphology

Figure 4a provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused brain and CNS tumours classified as benign or of uncertain behaviour. Most, 57.5%, present as Meningioma tumours. Figure 4b provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused malignant brain and CNS tumours. Most malignant brain and CNS tumours, 60.7%, present as Glioblastoma tumours.


Figure 4a: Distribution of benign brain and CNS cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Figure 4b: Distribution of malignant brain and CNS cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Geographical variance in cancer of the brain and central nervous system by local government area

Figure 5 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of brain and CNS cancer, including malignant tumours and those classified as benign or of uncertain behaviour, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of brain and CNS cancer.


Figure 5: Variation in the incidence of cancer of the brain and central nervous system for the period 2016-2020, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Cancer of the brain and central nervous system in people born overseas

Figure 6 shows the age standardised incidence rates of brain and CNS cancer, including malignant tumours and those classified as benign or of uncertain behaviour, in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups over the five-year period 2016 to 2020. The highest age standardised incidence rate for brain and CNS cancer was 15.5 for males born in the North America region and the lowest rate of 6.6 was observed in males born in the Africa region. The highest age standardised incidence rate for brain and CNS cancer was 15.6 for females born in the Southern Europe region and the lowest rate of 7.4 was observed in females born in the South and Central America region.


Figure 6: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for cancer of the brain and central nervous system in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2016-2020, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)



Cancer of the brain and central nervous system five-year relative survival

Figure 7 shows the change in 5-year survival for brain and CNS cancer and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for benign brain and CNS cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 86% to 94%. Five-year relative survival has decreased for malignant brain and CNS cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 28% to 27%.

Figure 7: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of cancer of the brain and central nervous system in five year brackets, from the period 1985-1989 to 2015-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

This webpage was last updated in May 2022