A brain tumor is a convergence or growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Many different types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are benign and others are cancerous.
A brain tumor is a convergence or growth of abnormal cells in the brain.
Many different types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are benign and others are cancerous. Brain tumors can start in the brain, or cancer can start in other parts of the body and spread to the brain.
Brain tumor treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor you have, as well as its size and location.
The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary greatly and depend on the tumor's size, location, and growth rate. Signs and symptoms caused by a brain tumor may include:
New-onset headache or change in pain pattern.
The headache gradually became more frequent and more severe.
Unexplained nausea or vomiting.
Vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision, or loss of peripheral vision.
Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or leg.
Hard to say.
Confusion in everyday matters.
Change in personality or behavior.
Seizures, especially in people with no history of seizures.
See your doctor if you have signs and symptoms of concern. These may include headaches that gradually worsen, are particularly severe when always in the same position, or are accompanied by nausea or vomiting, or are blurred or double vision.
Brain tumors that start in the brain
A brain tumor originates in the brain itself or in tissues near it, such as in the brain - including the meninges, cranial nerves, pituitary gland, or pineal gland. Primary brain tumors begin when normal cells have errors (mutations) in their DNA. These mutations allow cells to grow and divide at an increased rate and continue to live when healthy cells die. The result is masses of abnormal cells that form a tumor.
A primary brain tumor is less common than a secondary brain tumor, in which cancer starts elsewhere and spreads to the brain. Many different types of primary brain tumors exist. Give each name from the relevant cell type. Examples include:
Astrocytoma, also known as glioma, includes anaplastic astrocytoma and glioblastoma.
Germ cell tumor.
Cancer that started elsewhere and spread to the brain
Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors are the result of cancerous tumors that start elsewhere in the body and then spread to the brain. Secondary brain tumors most often occur in people with a history of cancer. But in rare cases, a metastatic brain tumor can be the first sign of cancer starting elsewhere in the body.
Secondary brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors. Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the most common types include:
Although doctors are not sure what causes the gene mutations that can lead to primary brain tumors, they have identified factors that can increase the risk of a brain tumor. Risk factors include:
Race. Brain tumors occur more frequently in Caucasians than in people of other races. An exception is a meningioma, which occurs most often in blacks.
Age. The risk of brain tumors increases with age. Brain tumors are common in the elderly. However, brain tumors can occur at any age. And some types of brain tumors, like medulloblastoma, occur almost exclusively in children.
Exposure to radiation. People who have been exposed to a type of radiation called ionizing radiation have an increased risk of brain tumors. Examples of ionizing radiation include radiation therapy used to treat cancer and radiation exposure caused by atomic bombs. More common forms of radiation, such as electromagnetic fields from power lines and radio wave radiation from cell phones and microwave ovens, have not been shown to be linked to brain tumors.
Chemical exposure at work. People working in certain industries may have an increased risk of brain tumors, possibly because of the chemicals they are exposed to on the job.
Family history of brain tumors. A small fraction of brain tumors occur in people with a family history of brain tumors or a family history of an inherited syndrome that increases the risk of brain tumors.
Brain tumors can cause complications depending on which part of the brain is affected. Complications may include:
Weakness. A brain tumor can damage any part of the brain. But if parts of the brain are involved in controlling the strength or movement of an arm or leg, it can cause weakness. Weakness caused by a brain tumor can be similar to that caused by a stroke.
Vision changes. A brain tumor usually damages the nerves that connect to the eye or the part of the brain that processes visual information which can lead to vision problems, such as double vision or decreased vision.
Headache. Brain tumors cause increased pressure in the brain, which can cause headaches. Headaches can be severe, incessant, and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Headaches may be caused by the tumor itself, or they may be caused by fluid forming in the brain (hydrocephalus). Most common headaches are not caused by brain tumors.
Personality changes. Tumors in certain areas of the brain can cause personality changes or behavioral changes.
Hearing poorly. Brain tumors that affect the auditory nerve, especially sound, can cause hearing loss in the affected ear.
Epileptic. Brain tumors can cause brain irritation, which can trigger seizures.
Tests and diagnostics
If a brain tumor is suspected, your doctor may recommend a number of tests and procedures, including:
Neurological examination. A neurological exam may include, among other things, testing of vision, hearing, balance, coordination, and reflexes. Difficulty in one or more areas can provide clues about the part of the brain that may be affected by a brain tumor.
The image test. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often used to help diagnose brain tumors. In some cases, dye may be injected through a vein in the arm before the MRI. Several MRIs, including functional MRI, perfusion MRI, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, can help doctors evaluate tumors and plan treatment. Other tomographic imaging tests may include computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET).
Tests to look for cancer in other parts of the body. If a brain tumor is suspected to be a result of cancer that has spread from another area of the body, your doctor may recommend tests and procedures to determine where cancer originated. For example, a CT scan of the chest can be done to look for signs of lung cancer.
Collect and test a sample of abnormal cells (biopsy). A biopsy may be done as part of an operation to remove the brain tumor, or a biopsy may be done using a needle. Needle biopsies may be done for brain tumors in hard-to-reach areas or very sensitive areas in the brain. Neurosurgery a small hole, called a burr hole, into the skull. A small needle is then inserted through the hole. Tissue is removed using a needle, usually with CT or MRI guidance. The biopsy sample was then viewed under a microscope to determine if it was cancerous or benign. This information is helpful in guiding treatment.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor, as well as your overall health and preferences. Your doctor can tailor treatment to suit your particular situation.
If the brain tumor is located in an easily accessible place, the surgeon will work to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible. In some cases, where the tumors are small and easily separate from surrounding brain tissue, complete surgical removal is possible. In other cases, the tumor cannot separate from surrounding tissue or is located near sensitive areas in the brain, making surgery dangerous. In these cases, the doctor tries to remove as much of the tumor and safely as possible. As soon as part of the brain tumor is removed, it may help to relieve signs and symptoms. In some cases, only a small biopsy sample is taken to confirm the diagnosis.
Surgical removal of a brain tumor carries risks, such as infection and bleeding. Other risks may depend on the part of the brain where the tumor is located. For example, surgery on a tumor near the nerves that connect to the eye can carry the risk of vision loss.
Radiation therapy uses beams of high-energy particles, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may come from a machine outside the body, or in very rare cases, radiation may be placed inside the body close to the brain tumor.
External radiation can be focused only on the area of the brain where the tumor is located, or it can be applied to the entire brain. Whole-brain radiation is sometimes used after surgery to kill tumor cells that may remain.
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type and dose of radiation received. In general, it can cause fatigue, headaches, and scalp irritation.
Radiosurgery is not a traditional form of surgery. Instead, radiosurgery uses many highly concentrated beams of radiation to kill tumor cells in a small area.
Radiosurgery is usually done during treatment and in most cases, you can go home the same day. Side effects may include fatigue, headache, and nausea.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be taken by mouth in pill form or injected into a vein.
A type of chemotherapy may be given during surgery. When removing all or part of a brain tumor, the surgeon may place one or more side panels of the tumor. These plates slowly release a chemotherapy drug over several days.
Chemotherapy side effects depend on the type and dose of the drug received. Systemic chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, and hair loss.
Drug treatment goals
Drug therapy focuses on specifically targeting the abnormalities of the cancer cells. By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug therapy can induce cancer cells. Many targeted therapy drugs are very new and are still undergoing research in clinical trials.
One of the drug therapy targets used to treat brain tumors is bevacizumab. This drug is given through a vein, stops the formation of new blood vessels, cuts off the blood supply to the tumor, and kills cancer cells.
Rehabilitation after treatment
Because brain tumors can develop in parts of the brain that control motor skills, language, vision, and thinking, rehabilitation may be a necessary part. Your doctor can recommend services that can help, such as:
Physical therapy can help regain lost motor skills or muscle strength.
Occupational therapy can help return to normal daily activities, including work.
Tutoring school-age children can help children deal with changes in their memory and thinking after a brain tumor.
Very few complementary and alternative therapies have been studied for brain tumors. There is no proven alternative treatment for brain tumors. However, they can help deal with the side effects of treatment. Talk to your doctor about options.
Some supplements and alternative therapies that can help with coping include:
Coping and supporting
A brain tumor diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary. It can feel like less control over health. But you can take steps to deal with the shock and grief that may come after a diagnosis. Consider trying to:
Find out all you can about specific brain tumors. Write questions and bring them to appointments. The doctor answers questions, takes notes, or asks a family member to come with you to appointments and take notes. The more you know and understand about each aspect of your care, the more confident you will feel in making treatment decisions.
Find someone you can talk to. Find someone you can share your feelings with. Maybe a loved one or family member is a good listener. Or talk to a counselor. Others with brain tumors may offer unique insight. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area.
Take care of your body and mind during treatment. Choose a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Exercise when you feel accomplished. Get enough sleep to feel rested. Reduce stress in your life by making time for relaxing activities like listening to music or journaling.