A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells within the brain or spinal cord. A brain tumor can be dangerous as it can disrupt the proper function of the brain. Brain tumors are often referred to as cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Tumors can also be primary or secondary.
Brain tumors are often classed as benign or malignant.
Benign brain tumors:
These brain tumors are not as aggressive as malignant tumors. The mass or growth of abnormal cells does not contain cancer cells. Benign brain tumors grow slowly and tend not spread into other tissue.
Malignant brain tumors:
This type of brain tumor does contain cancer cells and also tends not to have clear borders. These tumors are considered more dangerous as they grow rapidly and can invade other parts of the brain.
Doctors may also refer to a tumor based on where the tumor cells originated. If the tumor began in the brain, it can be referred to as a primary brain tumor. If it began in another part of the body and spread to the brain, it can be referred to as a secondary, or metastatic, brain tumor.
Symptoms of brain tumors may vary depending on the type of tumor and its location. The following symptoms may occur slowly and gradually increase, but they may also come quickly in the form of a seizure.
Common symptoms for brain tumors include:
• Problems with vision
• Nausea, vomiting, and general drowsiness
• Issues with short-term memory
• Speech problems
• Coordination issues
• Personality changes
A doctor may carry out a neurological exam. This is a test of the nervous system, and the doctor will look for problems that are caused by brain tumors. These include:
• Limb strength
• Hand strength
• Skin sensitivity
• Mental agility
After these tests, a doctor may then schedule further exams, including:
CT scan : A computerized tomography (CT) scan produces a detailed X-ray picture of a patient’s brain.
MRI scan : Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the brain.
EEG : An electroencephalogram uses electrodes attached to the head to record brain activity in search of abnormalities
If a doctor suspects that someone has a brain tumor, the person will probably undergo a biopsy. This is a surgical procedure where a piece of the tumor is removed and sent to a lab for tests. The tests aim to identify whether or not a patient has a brain tumor.
The cause of most brain tumors is not fully understood. According to the ACS, most brain tumorsare not actually linked to any known risk factor.
The only known environmental risk factor for brain tumors is exposure to radiation. This tends to be through radiation therapy.
According to the ACS, most people with brain tumors do not have a family history of the disease. However, there are some specific and rare cases where brain tumors have run in the family.
There are a number of factors that doctors consider when deciding on how to treat brain tumors. A person’s medical team will work closely with them to inform them of their options, allowing the person to choose the best treatment.
Factors that will be considered when deciding on how to treat a brain tumor include:
• General health
• Medical history
• Type of tumor
• Location of the tumor
• Size of the tumor
• Likelihood of the tumor spreading
• Tolerance for certain treatments
Here are some of the most common treatment methods for brain tumors:
Surgery is usually the first method of treatment for brain tumors. The surgeon will aim to remove as much of the tumor as possible. They will aim to do so without damaging any of the brain tissue that surrounds the tumor.
The surgeon may not be able to remove the entire tumor. If this is the case, they may use surgery to remove as much of it as possible before using radiation or chemotherapy to remove the rest. Surgery may also be used to provide a tumor sample, enabling a doctor to find an accurate diagnosis.
A doctor may prescribe steroids to a person with a brain tumor. These steroids are designed to reduce the buildup of swelling around a tumor and can also temporarily decrease symptoms. They can also make a person with a brain tumor generally feel better.
Steroids aren’t designed to reduce a tumor’s size, but they can have a toxic effect on certain tumor cells in particular types of brain tumor.
Radiotherapy is designed to destroy a brain tumor or prevent its growth. Beams of intense energy are administered to the brain from an external source. It aims to destroy the tumor cells, which causes the tumor to shrink in size. The destroyed tumor cells are then dealt with by the person’s immune system.
The issue with radiotherapy is that radiation cannot distinguish between tumorous cells and healthy cells. If administered, it can damage both sets of cells.
Radiosurgery is the common name for stereotactic radio surgery (SRS). SRS is a special form of radiation therapy and is not considered surgery.
SRS allows a doctor to administer a precise dose of radiation in the form of an X-ray beam. They can focus the radiation only on the area of the brain where the tumor is present. This reduces the risk of damage to the healthy part of the person’s brain.
Chemotherapy entails the use of specific drugs to treat brain tumors. These drugs tend to be used when treating malignant and other more serious tumors.
The drug is administered to stop the brain tumor from growing and works by preventing the tumor cells from duplicating. Chemotherapy can also cause the tumor cells to artificially begin the process of dying.