What is a Brain Tumor?
A brain tumor describes an abnormal cell growth developing near the brain. Some of these cells may carry cancer.
A tumor is produced when old cells are not removed as new are created. These will grow together, forming a hard mass. A tumor in the brain is different than in other locations because of the hard skull keeping the growth pressed against the brain.
This condition can affect anyone of any age and each year around 80 thousand Americans are diagnosed with a brain tumor. (1)
Usually when old cells die and become ineffective, they are expelled to make room for new ones. If this process goes wrong, new cells will form before the old are discharged.
This malfunction may cause a growth spurt of abnormal cells which will form a tumor. This will continue to grow while compressing essential parts of the brain. In turn, it may give rise to a series of symptoms and complications.
There are two different classifications of brain tumors: primary and metastatic. The latter is cancer which has traveled to the brain from another location and is now causing a growth. (2)
A primary brain tumor will begin to grow near the brain. Of this, there are about 130 different types, some of which, may cause cancer.
Symptoms are generally the same for both main types. They may vary in severity depending on size and location. They can include:
A headache is likely to be caused by the growing tumor, putting pressure on the delicate nerves and blood vessels. The severity may vary. Some might perceive it as throbbing while others may sense it as constant pain. (3)
Those affected often describe it as being worse in the mornings after waking up. For some people, it might be accompanied by vomiting. It generally gets better after a few hours.
The headache might increase its intensity during exercise, a change in position or even while coughing. It will usually not respond to medications.
A seizure is a sudden, uncontrollable episode of electrical disturbances in the brain. It is usually caused by a pressed nerve, meddling with the signals. (4)
The affected will likely lose consciousness. This is generally followed by muscle contractions. These may appear in a sequence of twitching and relaxation.
During a seizure, breathing and bodily functions may stop working momentarily. A dull blue appearance might manifest throughout the body.
The seizure is typically over within two to three minutes but the affected might seem tired or sleepy afterward. He/she may complain of muscle pain and headaches and is likely to encounter slight weakness and numbness.
Brain tumors have for long been associated with memory loss. The tumor can affect both long and short-term memory. (5)
It is not always caused directly by the tumor. Some people may acquire loss of memory following surgery or radiation treatments.
Mood swings can best be described as sudden changes in attitude. The affected might seem happy one moment and severely agitated the next without apparent reason. It may occur as the tumor is altering the brain’s functions. (6)
Depression associated with brain tumors can have a significant impact on life. It may arise due to how the tumor affects the brain. However, many exhibit depression due to the diagnosis itself. Studies suggest that one in four are likely to develop a depressive disorder. (7)
A tumor in the brain is likely to interfere with the personality of the affected. It may change the way the person acts and thinks. (8)
This symptom can be difficult, especially for loved ones. Personality may change to become the opposite of how it used to be and the affected might not be recognizable.
Depending on location, a tumor can change the way the affected speaks, concentrates or their ability to reason. (9)
The person might be unable to make a sound judgment. He/she may seem easily distracted or often confused. Sometimes this symptom can be apparent to the affected, other times it may be more evident to caregivers or loved ones.
Fatigue is a common symptom. It might be perceived as a total lack of energy and overwhelming tiredness. Others may experience feelings of weakness or heaviness in the body. It may lead to irritability or difficulty concentrating. (10)
If a sequence of the above mentioned symptoms occurs, it could be an indicator of a mass effect. This means the tumor is putting pressure on the surrounding healthy tissue and should be treated immediately. (11)
It might indicate that the tumor is growing. It can also occur as fluid circulation is blocked and is causing swelling.
A non-cancerous brain tumor is generally not evaluated within a staging system, as it is not likely to spread. They will usually be graded from I (1) to IV (4). (12, 13)
A grade one tumor is very unlikely to spread. They grow relatively slowly and can be removed with surgery and cure the patient.
Grade two tumors may also be very unlikely to grow or spread. However, these may recur following treatment.
Tumors classified as grade three are made up from mostly dividing cells. These will continue to grow rapidly.
These tumors are made from actively dividing cells. The tumor is likely to have blood vessel growth as well as areas of dead tissue. This enables them to spread rapidly.
Brain tumor treatment varies from person to person. Depending on the type of tumor and location, there is a wide selection of treatments. These may include:
Surgery usually provides the basis for treatment. A doctor might take a sample via surgery to help confirm a diagnosis. The tumor might even be removed entirely. (14)
Surgery may be done for a number of different reasons. These include removing as much as possible of the tumor, relieving symptoms or preparing for further treatment.
Other operations may create a direct view of the tumor (craniotomy) to implement further treatment. If the patient suffers from recurrent seizures due to a brain tumor, surgery might help reduce it.
Steroids can be used to treat a brain tumor. They will typically work to reduce swelling and symptoms. It has proven to promote a sense of well-being as well as increasing the appetite of the affected. (15)
This treatment is generally used if the tumor is cancerous. However, it may also be applied to benign (non-cancerous) tumors. (16)
It involves different anti-cancer drugs administered either directly on the tumor or through the bloodstream. These drugs work to kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing and spreading.
Radiation therapy involves exposing the tumor to concentrated beams of x-rays or photons. It may be administered to kill the abnormal cells or to prevent them from growing. The healthy cells will readily repair while the tumor will shrink and die out. (17)
What is a brain tumor? A brain tumor is an unnatural formation of old and new cells near the brain.
What are the signs of a brain tumor? A brain tumor can affect the way a person acts and feels. It can alter personalities and induce depressive disorders. Other signs can include headaches, nausea and vomiting. Seizures may recur and the affected is susceptible to mood swings and memory loss.
How do you develop a brain tumor? Cancer cells spreading from another location may cause a cancerous tumor in the brain. However, a tumor may also originate from the brain and is not necessarily cancerous. It usually develops when new cells form before the old are removed, creating a growth.
How is a brain tumor diagnosed? Doctors will usually begin with questions about symptoms encountered and their severity. If a brain tumor is suspected, a small sample might be taken for evaluation. This is typically followed by neurological examinations, where vision, hearing, balance, mental status and memory are assessed. Different brain scans may be done, including CT or CAT scans. (18)
What is the best treatment of a brain tumor? Treatment depends on the type and size of the tumor. It usually revolves around surgery and medications. These can include steroids or anti-cancer drugs used in chemotherapy. (19)
What are the long term complications of a brain tumor? A tumor might recur after being treated. In turn, it might cause serious complications to mental health. The affected can lose the ability to interact and it can cause permanent damage to brain functions. (20)
Is a brain tumor considered a disability? It can have severe impact on the brain’s functions which could lead to disabilities. (21)
Is there any cure for a brain tumor? It can be removed with surgery and treated with medications. However, it may regrow.
Is a brain tumor life threatening? It could cause a brain herniation, which can be fatal. This occurs when the fluid and blood vessels are pushed away from their position. It can also be a cause of death if the tumor is cancerous. (22)
A brain tumor is an unusual growth developing near the brain. Usually, it is cancer cells spreading from another location to the brain causing a growth spurt. (23)
However it may also originate from within the brain. Any type of brain tumor may cause various symptoms compromising mental health.
Early detection is key, so it is essential to be aware of symptoms and alert your doctor of any sudden changes.