What is Brain Cancer?
Brain cancer is a disease affecting the brain. Cancerous tumors grow in the brain, tending to develop rapidly and spread to other parts.
Tumors affecting another area of your body can also reach your brain if the cancer advances. These are referred to as metastatic brain tumors.
Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body. It plays a role in nearly every function of your body, from heartbeat to breathing regulation.
The brain is where all your memories are stored. It is the source of your unique personality, emotions and thoughts. (3)
The causes of brain cancer are still not completely understood. Most cancers are linked to certain lifestyle and environmental elements, such as smoking and obesity.
An existing cancer in the body can spread to your brain. Some rare genetic diseases and radiation exposure to the head can also cause tumors to grow.
The telltale warning signs of brain cancer include the following symptoms:
Tumors located in certain areas are more likely to cause pain. The same is true of tumors that are growing rapidly.
If the tumor is applying pressure to your brain, it can cause headaches. Some types of headaches tend to be linked to brain tumors more than others.
Cluster headaches can be explained as intense pain in or around one side of the head. This can be caused by a tumor.
Seizures are due to unusual electrical activity inside the brain. Seizures can result in loss of muscle control and shaking. You may also lose consciousness. (8)
More than one seizure is classified as epilepsy. One of the earliest signs of brain cancer is repeated seizures.
Frequently, one of the first noticeable symptoms of the disease is epilepsy. It is particularly common in patients with slow-growing tumors. (9)
Epilepsy caused by brain tumors do not usually respond to anti-seizure medication. (10)
60 percent of people with brain tumors will have one or more seizures over the course of the disease. (11)
Your brain processes all your sensory input and output. If channels in your brain are impaired by a cancerous growth, it can impact your senses.
If a tumor is in or around your optic nerves, it can cause vision problems. You may suffer from blurry vision or have difficulty in seeing colors. (12)
Brain cancer can affect your ability to speak. This is caused by a tumor growing in areas responsible for speech or language.
Speech-related symptoms can include a slurred voice. Patients can have trouble speaking consistently and correctly. (13)
Your sense of smell and taste can also be affected. Sudden loss of smell and taste can be a subtle sign of a brain tumor. (14)
Tumors growing on your brain stem can result in hearing loss. It may become harder to hear sounds of a higher frequency, like a whistle. (15)
A brain tumor can cause changes to your character.
Loss of Coordination
A tumor growing in your upper brain can impede your fine motor skills. These skills give you the ability to move your limbs, hands and feet in synchronization.
The staging system for brain cancer is different from other cancers. Unlike most cancers, tumors growing inside the brain don’t usually spread outside it.
Brain tumors are instead given a grade. The grade refers to how malignant (cancerous) the tumor is.
There can be several different grades of cell inside one tumor. In this case, the tumor is graded according to the most malignant cell grade.
This system applies even if there are very few high-grade cells. Even if a brain tumor is mostly low-grade cells, it will be given a higher grade. (19)
At this stage, you have no tumor growth in your brain. You have nothing to be concerned about.
This is the least serious grade given for cancerous brain tumors.
These tumors are linked to the highest survival rates. They usually grow slowly and may look non-cancerous under a microscope.
Tumors at this grade are still classified as slow growers. The tumor may have slight abnormalities if examined with a microscope.
This grade of tumor is classified as clearly malignant. There is an active production of abnormal cells, which can affect surrounding brain tissue.
However, under a microscope they are still similar to grade 2 tumors. Grade 3 tumors have a tendency to grow back.
These tumors are severely cancerous. Abnormal cells are produced rapidly and spread easily to healthy tissue.
Under a microscope, they are plainly malignant. Grade 4 tumors support their growth by forming blood vessels. Cells in the center of the tumor are dead.
Grade 3 tumors have a tendency to grow back as grade 4 tumors.
Tests to check for brain cancer are usually performed if a patient presents telltale symptoms. Imaging scans like an MRI help your doctors locate and examine the tumors.
However, these tests can’t always reveal the grade and type of tumor. Usually, doctors will follow up with a biopsy.
A biopsy involves collecting a sample of the tumor to examine. This can be done either surgically or with a needle through the skull. (20)
There are three primary treatment options for brain cancer. Treatment options may be combined for best effect.
The treatment options for brain cancer include the following approaches:
If possible, surgery is usually the first treatment option for brain cancer. The aim is to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
Removing a brain tumor is a very serious operation. Surgery is not an option if removing the tumor can affect key areas of the brain.
Doctors will use various approaches to reduce risk of damage to the brain. An example is a test to electrically stimulate the brain.
This enables doctors to see if the tumor is in an area that has important functions. New types of imaging tests may also be performed.
The surgery itself involves removing a part of your skull closest to the tumor location. The skull piece is then reattached after surgery. (21)
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy particles to destroy cancer cells. It may be used following surgery, to kill any tumor cells that remain.
This treatment can also be used if surgery is not an option. It can help relieve or prevent certain symptoms caused by the tumor.
Radiation therapy is like getting a highly concentrated x-ray. Doctors will perform tests to determine the best location to use the rays.
The majority of radiation therapy sessions involve finding the right place to aim. Radiation is harmful to normal brain tissue.
The risks of radiation therapy can include memory loss and personality changes. Depending on the patient, these risks must be taken to control the cancer. (22)
Chemotherapy involves taking anti-cancer drugs by mouth or injection. These drugs will reach almost all areas of your body through your blood.
Brain tumors require a different approach. These drugs are generally unable to get hold of malignant tumors in the brain. They are usually injected directly into the brain or spine.
Chemotherapy is a treatment option for rapidly growing tumors. It can be used with radiation therapy or surgery.
This treatment may cause unpleasant side effects. These include vomiting, weak immunity, hair loss and diarrhea. (23)
What is brain cancer? Brain cancer is a disease which affects your brain.
What are the signs of brain cancer? The symptoms of brain cancer include: headache, seizures, impaired senses, personality changes and loss of coordination.
How do you develop brain cancer? Brain cancer develops when a cancerous tumor grows in the brain. It can also develop when cancer spreads to your brain from another part of the body.
How are you diagnosed for brain cancer? If your doctor suspects a tumor, they will perform an imaging test such as an MRI on your brain.
What is the best treatment for brain cancer? The best treatment option depends on the grade and type of brain tumor. Treatment options include radiation therapy, surgery, targeted drugs and chemotherapy.
What are the long term complications of brain cancer? The tumor itself or treatment may result in physical and cognitive difficulties. Certain treatments, like radiation therapy, can cause damage to the brain. Cancer patients are more at risk for diseases due to weak immunity. (24)
Is brain cancer considered a disability? If you have a high grade brain tumor, or brain cancer is not improved by treatment, you may be eligible for disability. (25)
Is there any cure for brain cancer? Some tumors can be removed or destroyed with treatment. Lower grade tumors have a higher chance of complete recovery. (26)
Is brain cancer life-threatening? Certain types of tumors can be life-threatening. The average survival rate for patients with malignant brain tumors is just under 40 percent. (27)
Brain cancer is a very serious disease. Although it has several distinguishing symptoms, others such as headaches are common.
If you suspect any of your symptoms may be caused by a brain tumor, consult your doctor.
Advances are constantly being made in the field of cancer treatment. New techniques are constantly being developed to treat brain cancer more effectively with fewer side effects. (28)