A brain tumor is an accumulation or a mass, of abnormal cells in your brain. Your skull, that encloses your brain, is very firm. Any growth in such a confined space can cause issues. Brain tumors can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). When malignant or benign tumors grow, they can cause increased pressure inside your skull. As a result, this condition can cause brain damage, and it can even be life-threatening.
Brain tumors are categorized as follows
Primary: This originates in your brain. Most of the primary brain tumors are benign
Secondary: This is also known as a metastatic brain tumor. This occurs when cancer cells spread to your brain from other organs, like your breast or lung.
Difference Between Benign and Malignant Tumors
Benign brain tumors are noncancerous. However, Malignant primary brain tumors are cancers which originate in the brain. Usually, Malignant grows faster than benign tumors, and it will aggressively invade the surrounding tissue. Even though brain cancer rarely spreads to other organs, there is a possibility that it can spread to other parts of the brain as well as the central nervous system.
Although benign tumors that are in other parts of your body might cause few issues, they aren’t generally considered to be a life-threatening or major health issue. However, even a benign brain tumor can be a serious health issue. As brain tumors can damage the cells around them just by causing inflammation & putting increased pressure on the tissue around and under it as well as inside the skull.
Types of Brain Tumors
Primary brain tumors
They originate in your brain. They can develop from your:
- brain cells
- nerve cells
- the membranes that surround your brain, that are called meninges
Primary tumors can either be cancerous or benign. The common types of adult brain tumors are gliomas and meningiomas.
It develops from glial cells. These cells normally:
- Support the structure of your central nervous system
- Clean cellular waste
- Provide nutrition to your central nervous system
- Break down dead neurons
Other primary brain tumors
- Pituitary tumors – usually benign
- Pineal gland tumors – benign/malignant
- Ependymomas – benign
- Craniopharyngiomas – occurs mostly in children and are benign
- Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphomas – malignant
- Primary germ cell tumors of the brain – benign/malignant
- Meningiomas – originates in the meninges (Age 40-70)
- Schwannomas – originates in cells, produces the protective cover of your nerves (myelin sheath) known as Schwann cells (Age 40-70)
Secondary brain tumors
They make up the majority of brain cancers. It starts in one part of the body and metastasize or spread, to the brain. The following conditions can metastasize to the brain:
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Skin cancer
- Kidney cancer
Secondary brain tumors are always malignant. However, Benign tumors will not spread from one body part to another.
- Family history
- Chemical exposure
- Exposure to radiation
- No history of chickenpox
Symptoms of brain tumors differ according to the type of tumor as well as the location. As different areas of the brain control different functions of your body the symptoms are manifested depending on where the tumor lies.
A common symptom of a brain tumor is headaches. Oftentimes, they do not respond to the usual headache remedies. Remember, most headaches are unrelated to brain tumors.
Other symptoms include:
- Changes in vision, speech or hearing
- Issues with balance
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
- Problems with memory
- Problems with walking
- Weakness in one part of the body
- Personality changes
- Inability to concentrate
It is always important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by a number of various conditions. So, do not assume you have a brain tumor just because you experience some of these symptoms. Consult with your healthcare professional
In order to diagnose a brain tumor, the doctor will start by asking questions about your symptoms as well as taking a family and personal health history. After which, s/he performs a physical exam, that includes a neurological exam. If there is a reason to suspect the brain tumor, then the doctor may request one or more of the following tests:
- CT scan of the head
- MRI of the head
- Skull X-rays
The treatment depends on:
- Your general health
The most common treatment for malignant brain tumors results in surgery. Here, the goal is to remove as most cancer as possible without leading damage to the healthy parts of the brain. The location of some tumors allows for safe and easy removal. The other tumors will be located in an area and confines how much of the tumor can be removed. Although partial removal of brain cancer can be certainly beneficial.
The risks of brain surgery include bleeding and infection. Also, clinically dangerous benign tumors can be surgically removed. Metastatic brain tumors are treated according to guidelines of original cancer type.
Surgery can also be combined with the following other treatments
- Radiation therapy
- Physical therapist in order to regain balance and strength
- Speech therapist to address the problems with expressing thoughts, speaking, or swallowing
- The occupational therapist can help manage your daily activities like using the bathroom, dressing, and bathing.
Having one or more of the symptoms mentioned above doesn’t mean that you certainly have a brain tumor. All of these symptoms may have other causes. But still, if you have any of these symptoms, and if they don’t go away or get worse over time, then it is best to see your healthcare professional to find and treat, if needed. Overall, the tumor’s pathology and anatomy, the patient’s prognosis, general medical condition, expectations as well as quality of life are all carefully considered even before surgeries are considered.