Brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in your brain. There are several types of brain tumors that can develop in the brain. Some brain tumors are noncancerous or benign, while some are cancerous or malignant. Brain tumors can grow in the brain called primary brain tumors, or the tumor can develop in other organs of the body and spread to your brain (secondary, or metastatic, brain tumors). The symptoms of a brain tumor depend on the brain tumor's size, location and rate of growth.
The growth rate and the location of a brain tumor shows how it will affect the function of your nervous system. Brain tumor treatment options depend on the type, size and location of the brain tumor. In a lot of cases in primary brain tumors, the cause of the tumor is unknown. However, experts have determined certain factors that might increase your risk of having a brain tumor. Onlymyhealth editorial team talked to Dr. Mukesh Kumar, Associate Director and Head (Parkinson's Disease Unit), Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, about the types, symptoms, causes and treatment of brain tumor.
Brain tumor types
Brain tumors are divided into two main categories, mainly primary and secondary. According to Dr. Mukesh, here are the two main types of brain tumor:
1. Primary brain tumor
A primary brain tumor starts in your brain. Most of the primary brain tumors are benign, but they can be cancerous as well. These can develop in your brain cells, nerve cells and glands. In adults, the most common types of brain tumors are gliomas and meningiomas.
2. Secondary brain tumor
A secondary brain tumor, also called metastatic brain tumor, develops when cancer cells spread to your brain from another organ of the body. Secondary brain tumors make up most of the brain cancers. They occur in one part of the body and spread, or metastasize, to the brain gradually. Secondary brain tumors are always malignant.
Brain tumor symptoms
Like mentioned earlier, brain tumor symptoms depend on the location and size of the tumor. In some cases, tumors cause direct damage by attacking the brain tissue and some tumors trigger pressure on the surrounding areas of the brain. One will experience noticeable signs when a tumor will grow and put pressure on the brain tissue. The most common symptom of brain tumor is headache. As per Dr. Mukesh, here are the main signs of brain tumor:
Headache is a very general symptom and one of the most common sign of brain tumor. Patient experiences pain because of the pressure due to tumor on brain or spinal cord. Headache can be acute and in some cases it can be persistent too. Generally, it is reported that this headache is usually worse with increased physical activities and early in the morning.
2. Difficulty in balancing
Brain tumor can start growing in any part of our brains. The location decides that how is it going to affect our nervous systems. In most cases, people experience issues in controling their muscles. They might also experience involuntary muscle movement at times.
3. Nausea and vomitting
Nausea and vomiting is also another symptom of brain tumor. It is a feeling that you are unwell, usually accompanied with headache. This also happens due to pressure exerted by tumor. It can even continue after your treatment too, because radiotherapy can sometimes worsen vomiting and similar symptoms.
Around 50 percent of the people suffering from brain tumor may experience seizures. The chance of seizure also depends on location and tumor type. The closer it is to cortical grey matter, the more are the chances of seizures in brain tumor.
5. Behavioural changes
Patients diagnosed with brain tumors may also start to show certain behavioural changes too such as minor memory loss and emotional outbursts. Diagnosis of tumor also affects the patients mental health and one must keep a check on patients because poor mental health can worsen the well being of the patients.
6. Speech and hearing problems
Some brain tumors can cause auditory disturbances too. Impairments may include one-sided hearing loss and ringing in the ears, and even blurring vision. Some patients might also experience problem in speaking, forming clear words and say things that make very little sense. They might not be able to understand what others are saying.
Brain tumor causes
The risk factors for developing a brain tumour include increasing age and family history. However, having a risk factor does not mean that you will surely develop a brain tumour. The main risk factors of a brain tumor are:
- Family history
- Exposure to radiation
- Head injury
Brain tumor diagnosis
The diagnosis of a brain tumor begins with a thorough physical exam and a detail about your medical history. The physical exam includes a very detailed neurological examination. The doctor will conduct a test to see if your cranial nerves are intact. These are the nerves that originate in your brain. Your doctor will look inside your eyes with an ophthalmoscope, which is an instrument that shines a light through your pupils and onto your retinas. This makes your doctor to check how your pupils react to light. It also allows your doctor to look directly into your eyes to see if there’s any swelling of the optic nerve. When pressure increases inside the skull, changes in the optic nerve can occur.
Brain tumor treatment
Just like symptoms, the treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, size and location of the tumor, and if there are any underlying medical conditions or not. The preferred course of treatments for brain tumor are:
If the brain tumor is present in a location that can be treated easily with an operation, the surgeon will try to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible. In some cases, tumors are small in size and easy to separate from surrounding areas of the brain, which makes full surgical procedure easily possible. In other cases, tumors cannot be separated from surrounding brain tissue or if they are located near some areas in your brain, making the surgery a risk.
2. Radiation therapy
In radiation therapy, high-energy beams are used, such as X-rays or protons, to kill the dangerous tumor cells. Radiation therapy can released from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation). In some cases, radiation can be placed inside the body near your brain tumor (brachytherapy).
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill tumor cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be consumed orally in pill form or injected into a vein (intravenously). The chemotherapy drug that is used usually to treat brain tumor is temozolomide (Temodar), which is taken as a pill. Many other chemotherapy drugs are available and are used depending on the type of cancer.
4. Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug therapy is done for specific abnormalities in the cancer cells. By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug therapy can kill cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs are used for some types of brain tumors, and many more are still being studied and researched in clinical trials.
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