A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of cells inside the brain or skull; some are benign, others malignant. Tumors can grow from the brain tissue itself (primary), or cancer from elsewhere in the body can spread to the brain (metastasis). Treatment options vary depending on the tumor type, size and location. Treatment goals may be curative or focus on relieving symptoms. Many of the 120 types of brain tumors can be successfully treated. New therapies are improving the life span and quality of life for many people.
Signs that you should watch out for
Usually, symptoms like a headache or confusion are just your body’s way of telling you to hydrate or sleep more. But rarely, these symptoms can signal a bigger problem.
Unfortunately, the warning signs of a brain tumor can be as diverse as the brain’s endless list of responsibilities. There is no specific sign for a brain tumor and can present with many different signs and symptoms, depending on where it is located. Signs like-
- Seizures: A tumor can make the brain’s neurons fire wildly, leading to seizures.
- Changes in your mental status: Perhaps you’ve had confusion or more trouble than usual figuring out a something or some calculations.
- Personality or behavioral changes: They can be a loss of inhibition.
- Clumsiness: Brain stem tumors may lead to a loss of balance or clumsy movements.
- Visual problems: A tumor in a brain area that controls eyesight may affect your vision. Blurred, double or even loss of vision can be signs of a brain tumor.
- Limb weakness: Losing strength or weakness in an arm or leg may be a brain tumor symptom.
- Headaches: Brain tumor headaches tend to persist for more than a few days, are associated with nausea or vomiting or occur early in the morning.
Other symptoms can be memory loss, mood swings fatigue etc.
Are brain tumors cancerous?
Tumors can be either benign or malignant. The benign ones are not cancerous and cannot spread to other parts of the brain or body. The malignant ones are cancerous, grow uncontrollably and can spread to other parts of the body. That’s why it’s important to get a thorough and accurate diagnosis of a brain tumor.
It’s also important to understand that even benign tumors can damage brain tissue and cause side effects, such as headaches, fatigue and double or blurred vision. So even if a brain tumor is not cancerous, receiving timely and appropriate treatment may be critical to your overall health.
Types of brain tumor
There two main groups of brain tumors that are termed as primary and metastatic.
Primary brain tumors include tumors that originate from the tissues of the brain or the brain’s immediate surroundings. Primary tumors are categorized as glial (composed of glial cells) or non-glial (developed on or in the structures of the brain, including nerves, blood vessels and glands) and benign or malignant.
Metastatic brain tumors include tumors that arise elsewhere in the body (such as the breast or lungs) and migrate to the brain, usually through the bloodstream. Metastatic tumors are considered cancer and are malignant. Metastatic tumors to the brain affect nearly one in four patients with cancer. Up to 40 percent of people with lung cancer will develop metastatic brain tumors. More sophisticated diagnostic tools, in addition to innovative surgical and radiation approaches today have helped survival rates to expand up to years and also allowed for an improved quality of life for patients following diagnosis.
When to see a doctor? How is it diagnosed?
People should see their doctor if they experience any of the symptoms listed above. Many of the symptoms overlap with those of other causes and may signal another health condition. Tracking any symptoms can help a doctor determine a diagnosis. Keeping track of what time and how frequently symptoms occur can also help.
If a person does have symptoms that signal a brain tumor, early diagnosis and treatment are important to help prevent the tumor from growing.
A doctor will take a full medical history and perform a range of neurological tests to see what is causing the symptoms. For example, they may:
- Run CT scans or MRI scans, to provide an image of the brain
- Conduct tests to check balance, vision, and coordination
Also, if they locate a tumor in the brain, they may take a tissue sample, or biopsy, to find out what type it is.