What You Need to Know about Brain Tumor: Symptoms, Signs & Causes
Brain tumors are the result of abnormal cells that grow and multiply unnaturally. These cells can develop in any part of the brain and in nerve tissues called the meninges that encase the brain. Brain tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous but may grow to a large size and cause serious symptoms.
Malignant tumors, also known as primary brain cancers, are more serious because they have the potential to spread from the brain and affect other areas of the body (metastasize).
While it’s not common for young people to develop a brain tumor, it tends to be more common for those older. According to estimates from the American Brain Tumor Association, about 21,980 new cases of primary intracranial tumors will be diagnosed among adults aged 20 or older in 2018 alone. Here’s what you need to know about this rare but dangerous illness.
What are the Different Types of Brain Tumors?
There are several different types of brain tumors, including but not limited to the following:
These are the most common of all adult brain tumors, accounting for about 30% of all brain tumors. Astrocytomas tend to grow slowly, usually remaining confined to the brain. They are most likely to occur in people aged 50-69.
These are the second most common type of adult brain tumors, accounting for 20% of all brain tumors. They are more common in women and typically start after age 50. Meningiomas often grow very slowly and can be challenging to treat.
3. Pituitary Gland Tumors
These are rare tumors that form in the pituitary gland, a small gland located at the base of the brain. Only 1% of all brain tumors are pituitary tumors. These tumors can be very serious and can cause vision loss, hearing loss, headaches, and other problems.
These are the most common and aggressive of all primary intracranial cancers. Glioblastomas are tumors that start in the glial cells, which are the supportive cells of the brain.
This type of brain tumor begins in a neural stem cell called a neural crest cell. Medulloblastoma accounts for about 5% of all childhood brain tumors.
Symptoms of Brain Tumors
Brain tumors can affect a person’s ability to think, communicate, move, and feel. The symptoms of a brain tumor are often related to the location of the tumor. For example, a tumor growing near the front of the brain may cause headaches, while a tumor in the back of the brain may cause vision problems.
Some brain tumors can cause severe headaches, particularly those near the front of the brain.
2. Loss of ability to think and communicate clearly
Brain tumors can increase pressure in the brain, damaging healthy brain tissue and causing swelling. The swelling can affect a person’s ability to think and communicate clearly.
Brain tumors can cause abnormal electrical activity in the brain, leading to seizures.
4. Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
A brain tumor can cause pressure on the surrounding nerves, potentially leading to weakness or paralysis on one side of the body.
5. Loss of balance or difficulty walking
A brain tumor can cause pressure on the surrounding nerves, potentially leading to loss of balance or difficulty walking.
How are Brain Tumors Diagnosed?
A doctor will typically perform a physical exam followed by a neurological exam to check for any signs of a brain tumor. They might also order a brain scan to take a closer look at the brain. The type of scan will depend on the suspected type of tumor. (Note: A brain tumor diagnosis should always be confirmed with a surgical biopsy or using a needle during an MRI. Brain scans alone are not enough to diagnose a brain tumor.)
1. CT Scan
This computerized X-ray takes cross-section pictures of the brain and surrounding structures. A CT scan can help doctors detect any tumors or signs of bleeding in the brain.
2. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
This test uses a powerful magnet to generate brain images. An MRI can detect tumors and signs of abnormalities in the brain’s structure and fluid flow. Some tumors produce extra fluid, which can show up as a bulge or swelling on the brain. An MRI can also help doctors determine whether a tumor is growing.
3. PET Scan
This scan uses a radioactive tracer that travels through the body, particularly focusing on abnormal tissues. A PET scan can show abnormal areas that might indicate a tumor.
In some cases, doctors will take a small sample of brain tissue to examine under a microscope. This can help confirm a brain tumor diagnosis.
Treating Brain Tumors
Treatment for brain tumors depends on the type of tumor and its location. Doctors will typically use one or more of the following treatments:
If the tumor is accessible, the surgeon may remove it entirely. If the tumor is too close to nerves or other essential structures, the surgeon may try to remove as much of the tumor as possible while preserving those critical brain parts.
In some cases, doctors administer chemotherapy before or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
A doctor may use radiation to destroy a tumor that surgery cannot remove completely. Immunotherapy: This type of treatment uses drugs to help the immune system fight cancer more effectively.
4. Targeted therapy
This treatment uses drugs to block specific pathways that allow cancer cells to grow.
5. Hyperbaric therapy
Studies show that this treatment can help heal brain tissue damaged by a tumor.
6. Brain stimulation
Doctors can use electrical stimulation or implanted electrodes to control the brain’s electrical activity, thus helping to reduce symptoms like seizures.
Final Words: Treatments of Brain Tumor
Brain tumors are scary, and they can also be devastating. Fortunately, they are also highly treatable, often with excellent results. The sooner you catch one, the better your chances are of beating it. Be sure to watch for any of the symptoms described above so you can seek treatment as soon as possible.
That said, it’s important to understand that brain tumor are not a death sentence. Most people diagnosed with a brain tumor live for many years after treatment. You can and will beat this.