A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells that have multiplied out of control. There are many different types of brain tumors. Some are benign, or non-cancerous, while others are classified as malignant, or cancerous. Symptoms you experience and treatment options depend largely on the type of tumor as well as its size and location.
Primary brain tumors are those that originate in the brain or tissues surrounding it. These tumors are much less common than secondary tumors, which occur when cancer from another part of the body metastasizes or spreads to the brain. While any type of cancer may do this, melanoma and cancers of the breast, colon, kidney, and lung are the most common to metastasize to the brain.
Researchers have not been able to determine exactly what causes brain tumors to form. Only a few risk factors have been documented. Exposure to radiation therapy of the head may put you at a higher risk for developing brain tumors. Certain genetic syndromes may increase your risk as well. Typically, there is not a clear indication of what caused the tumor to form. Research continues to determine if cell phones may contribute to the formation of brain tumors. At this time, no clear conclusions have been made linking the two.
There are no reliable screenings that detect brain tumors before symptoms appear. Patients may suffer from a variety of symptoms before visiting their physician for diagnosis. The size, location, and rate of growth of the tumor often determine what symptoms occur. Some of the most common symptoms may include:
- Headaches that occur more often and become more severe over time
- Blurred or double vision
- Hearing loss
- Unexplained nausea and vomiting
- Changes in personality
- Weakness or loss of movement in an arm or leg
If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your physician for a diagnosis. He or she will recommend a variety of tests to determine whether or not a brain tumor is the problem. Checking your vision, hearing, coordination, and reflexes with a neurological exam may indicate which part of brain is affected. An MRI allows the physician to scan your brain and evaluate the situation. A CT scan may be administered to determine if there is cancer in another part of your body that may have spread. If a tumor is found, the patient may undergo a biopsy to diagnose the tumor as benign or malignant.
Benign tumors are less aggressive than malignant ones and do not normally spread to surrounding tissue or other parts of the body. Even though they are not cancerous, benign tumors can still be very serious and possibly life threatening. If they are located in a vital area of the brain, exert pressure on sensitive nerve tissue, or increase pressure in the brain, these tumors may pose a serious risk to the patient. Benign tumors are often successfully treated with surgery, reducing the patient’s risk of disability or death.
There are three standard types of treatment for malignant tumors: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. New treatments are constantly being researched and used in clinical trials throughout the world. For some patients, clinical trials are the best choice of treatment. Your cancer care team will make recommendations for the treatment options that best suit your particular situation.
It is important that those patients who are dealing with a brain tumor not only get the best treatment available, but also find support to cope with their diagnosis. Talk with your physician or oncologist about support options in your area.