A brain tumor is a growth or mass of abnormal cells in the brain or close to the brain. There are different types of brain tumors. While some are benign or non-cancerous, some others are malignant or cancerous.
Brain tumors can start in the brain, in which case they are known as primary brain tumors, or cancer can start in other parts of the body, and spread to brain. The latter types of tumors are known as metastatic or secondary brain tumors.
The growth rate and the location of the tumor determine how it affects the function of the nervous system.
Symptoms of brain tumor depend on its size and location. They can cause direct damage by attacking brain tissue, and causing brain pressure to increase. The patient will experience symptoms when a growing tumor puts pressure on the brain tissue.
One of the most common symptoms of brain tumor is headache. These headaches are usually worse in the morning when the patient wakes up, or occur while they are asleep. Headaches are made worse by sneezing, coughing or exercise.
Apart from headaches, the patient may experience:
- blurred vision or double vision
- weakness of a limb or part of the face
- seizures (especially in adults)
- a change in mental functioning
Other common symptoms include:
- memory loss
- difficulty reading or writing
- decreased alertness, drowsiness or loss of consciousness
- changes in the ability to taste, hear, or smell
- dizziness or vertigo
- difficulty swallowing
- eye problems, such as unequal pupils and drooping eyelids
- uncontrollable movement
- loss of balance
- hand tremors
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- Trouble speaking or understanding what others are saying
- numbness or tingling on one side of the body
- difficulty walking
- changes in mood, emotions, personality, and behavior
- muscle weakness in the arm, leg or face
When to see a doctor
You should consult your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that concern you.
Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the size, type, and location of the tumor. It is also based on the overall health of the patient and their preferences.
If the tumor is located in a place where it can be accessed for an operation, the surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible. In some cases, brain tumors are small and can be easily separated from the brain tissue, so the surgery becomes possible. However, sometimes, the tumors cannot be separated from the surrounding tissue or they are located close to sensitive areas in the brain, which makes surgery risky. In such cases also the surgeon will try to remove as much of the tumor as is safely possible.
This involves the use of high energy beams such as protons or X-Rays to kill tumor cells. In most cases, radiation therapy comes from a machine outside the body, which is known as external beam radiation. However, in some very rare cases, radiation is placed inside the body close the tumor, and the procedure is known as brachytherapy.
This involves the use of drugs to kill brain tumor cells. These drugs can be taken orally or can be injected into a vein. The chemotherapy drug that is most commonly used to treat brain tumors is Temodar or temozolomide, which is taken as a pill. There are several other chemotherapy drugs available and may be used depending on the type of cancer.
The outlook for a brain tumor depends on the type, size and location of tumor. It also depends on the general health of the patient. Early treatment can prevent complications that occur as the tumor grows and puts pressure on the brain tissue and skull.
Unfortunately, no one knows the exact cause of brain tumours, especially, primary brain cancer. So, there are no specific preventive measures. However, there are certain factors that have been suggested possible risk factors. These include radiation to the head, environmental toxins, and HIV infection.