A number of reports have indicated an increasing incidence of primary brain tumors over the past few decades. The purpose of this study was to describe incidence rate trends in a population-based series of newly diagnosed primary nonmalignant and malignant brain and other CNS tumors, contributing five additional years to previously published incidence trends. Data for the years 1985 through 1999 from six collaborating state cancer registries of the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States were used to determine incidence trends in the broad age groups 0-19, 20-64, and >or=65 years, overall and for selected histologies. Multiplicative Poisson regression was used to express trends as average annual percent change (AAPC). Joinpoint regression was used to identify sharp changes in incidence occurring over this period. Overall, incidence increased modestly (AAPC, 1.1; 95% CI, 0.8-1.4). When brain lymphomas were excluded, this increase remained statistically significant. A sharp change in incidence of brain lymphomas from increasing to decreasing over time was identified. Specific histologies that were increasing included anaplastic astrocytomas in individuals aged >or=65 years, microscopically confirmed gliomas in both adult age groups, and microscopically confirmed glioma, not otherwise specified (NOS), in children. Increases that were not specific to any population subgroup were seen for oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, meningiomas, and nerve sheath tumors. Decreases were noted for astrocytoma, NOS, nonmicroscopically confirmed gliomas, and pituitary tumors. Improvements in diagnosis and classification are likely reflected in the decreasing trends in unspecified glioma subgroups and the accompanying increasing trends in more specific glioma subgroups. However, increases in meningiomas and nerve sheath tumors deserve further attention.