The brain controls major and primary bodily functions, making it one of the most complex organs in the human body. The brain is an organ that is part of the central nervous system or CNS, where all body’s vital functions are controlled and regulated. These functions include thought, speech, and body movements, among many others. It means that when a tumor grows in the brain, it can affect one’s thought processes or the way they talk or move.
While no one knows precisely the extent of the brain’s complexity, scientists have estimated that there are more neurons in your brain compared to the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It is why it’s crucial to do everything that you can to protect this complex organ in your body and keep it healthy. However, illnesses such as brain tumors can also occur, and when that happens, you need to consult with a Neurologist.
What is a brain tumor?
A brain tumor is a mass or collection of abnormal cells that can be found in your brain. Your skull that encloses the brain is very rigid and restrictive. Any growth of abnormal cells in such a restricted space can cause complications and problems to one’s brain health.
Many types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are benign or noncancerous, and some brain tumors can be malignant or cancerous. As either a benign or malignant tumor grows, it can increase the pressure inside of your skull which can cause life-threatening brain damage.
Brain tumors can also begin or originate in your brain (primary brain tumors). Many primary brain tumors are usually benign. This tumor can develop from your
- brain cells
- meninges or the membranes that surround your brain
- nerve cells
Primary brain tumors can be benign or cancerous. In adults, the most common types of brain tumors include gliomas and meningiomas. Gliomas are tumors that can develop from glial cells that support the structure of the central nervous system, provide nutrition, clean cellular waste and break down dead tumors.
On the other hand, Meningioma is a tumor in the meninges or the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Meningioma grows slowly, often for many years, without causing any symptoms. It is also the most common type of tumor in the brain, which may compress or squeeze the adjacent brain parts, nerves, and vessels.
However, brain tumors also occur when cancer cells start in other parts of your body, such as your lung or breast, then spread to your brain, which is referred to as secondary or metastatic brain tumors. Secondary brain tumors are always malignant because benign tumors don’t spread from one part of the body to another.
The speed at which brain tumors can grow varies greatly. The growth rate of the tumor and its location in the brain can usually determine how it can affect the overall function of your nervous system. Treatment options for brain tumors also depend on the type of brain tumor and its size and location.
What are the risk factors for a brain tumor?
A risk factor is described as anything that can increase a person’s chance of developing a brain tumor. While risk factors usually influence the development of a brain tumor, most do not directly become the cause of a brain tumor.
Some people with several risk factors never develop a brain tumor in their lifetime, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing various risk factors and talking about them with your doctor can help you make more informed decisions.
Most of the time, the cause of the development of a brain tumor is unknown, but the following factors can increase someone’s risk of developing a brain tumor.
- Family History
According to American Brain Tumor Association, about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers can be hereditary or genetically inherited. Generally, it is usually rare for a brain tumor to be genetically inherited. Talk to your doctor if several people in your family have been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Brain tumors are more common in children and older adults, but people of any age can also develop a brain tumor. The risk for most types of brain tumors can also increase with age.
- Chemical exposure
Exposure to certain chemicals like those you can find in a work environment may also increase your risk for brain tumors. However, there is not yet sufficient scientific evidence that supports this direct link.
- Exposure to radiation
People who were exposed to ionizing radiation have an increased risk for brain tumors. You can be exposed to ionizing radiation as you undergo high-radiation cancer therapies. You can also be exposed to radiation due to nuclear fallout, with examples like nuclear power plant incidents in Fukushima and Chornobyl showing how people can be exposed to ionizing radiation.
Symptoms of brain tumor
People with brain tumors can experience several symptoms and signs. There are also times when those diagnosed with brain tumors do not experience any of these changes or complications. The cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not identified as a brain tumor.
Symptoms of a brain tumor can be general or specific. A general symptom of a brain tumor is the pressure of the tumor on the brain or the spinal cord. On the other hand, specific symptoms are caused when a specific part of the brain is not working well because of the presence of the tumor.
Many people with brain tumors were diagnosed when they went to talk to a doctor after experiencing a problem like headaches or other changes in the brain.
General Symptoms of Brain Tumors
The general symptoms commonly associated with brain tumors may include:
- Headaches that may worsen or become severe with strenuous activity or in the early morning.
- People may experience various types of seizures, but certain drugs can help prevent or control them. Motor seizures or convulsions are seizures referred to as the sudden involuntary movements of a person’s muscles. There are different types of seizures as listed below:
- Myoclonic; Symptoms include single or multiple muscle twitches, jerks, and spasms.
- Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal); Its symptoms include loss of consciousness and body tone, followed by twitching and relaxing muscles or contractions and body functions. This type of seizure can be a short 30-second period of no breathing, which can turn a person’s skin into a shade of blue, purple, gray, white, or green
- Sensory; Symptoms include changes in sensation, vision, smell, or hearing senses without losing consciousness.
- Complex partial; It may cause a loss of awareness or a partial or total loss of consciousness that may also be associated or related to repetitive, unintentional movements such as twitching.
- Personality or memory changes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty with balance
- Speech difficulties
- Confusion in everyday matters
- Sleep problems
- Memory problems
- Changes in the ability to walk or perform daily activities
Some symptoms may be specific to the location of the tumor, which includes the following.
- Pressure or headache near the location of the tumor in the brain
- Loss of balance and difficulty with fine motor skills is usually linked to a tumor located in the cerebellum.
- Changes in judgment, which include loss of initiative, sluggishness, and muscle weakness or paralysis, can be associated with a tumor located in the cerebrum’s frontal lobe.
- Partial or complete loss of one’s vision can be caused by a tumor located in the occipital lobe or temporal lobe of the cerebrum.
- Changes in speech, hearing, memory, or emotional states like aggressiveness and problems when it comes to understanding or retrieving words can develop from a tumor located in the frontal and temporal lobe of the cerebrum.
- Alteration of perception in terms of touch or pressure, arm or leg weakness on one side of the body, or confusion with the left and right sides of the body can be linked to a tumor that is located in the frontal or parietal lobe of the cerebrum.
- The inability to look upward can be caused by a tumor located in the pineal gland of the brain.
- Lactation or secretion of breast milk, alterations of menstrual periods in women, and growth in hands and feet in adults are linked with a tumor located in the brain’s pituitary gland.
- Difficulty swallowing, facial weakness or numbness, or double vision are symptoms that can stem from a tumor that is located in the temporal lobe, occipital lobe, or brain stem.
If you are concerned with any changes you experience, it is best to talk with your doctor. Your doctor will inquire about your symptoms, asking questions about how long you have been experiencing the symptoms, as well as how often it happens to you, in addition to other related questions about your health. It is to help determine and figure out the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis.
If a brain tumor is diagnosed, relieving the symptoms you experience remains an essential aspect of your care and treatment, also called palliative care or supportive care. It often begins soon after the diagnosis, and it is continued throughout the treatment process. Ensure that you communicate to your healthcare team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or any changes that occur with your symptoms.
How is a brain tumor diagnosed?
Doctors use various tests to find or diagnose a brain tumor and learn about the type of brain tumor. They also utilize tests to figure out if the tumor has spread to another part of the body from where it started, which is called metastasis, rare for a primary brain tumor. Doctors may also run tests to learn about what treatment would work best for the tumor.
For most types of tumors, taking a sample of the possible tumor is usually the only sure way for the doctor to determine whether an area of the body has a tumor. It is done in a biopsy procedure or by removing a part or all of the tumor through surgery. In a biopsy, the doctor takes a small sample of tissue to be tested in a laboratory. If this is not feasible, a doctor may also suggest other tests that can help make a diagnosis for the patient.
Imaging tests are one way that can help doctors identify if the tumor is a primary brain tumor or if it is cancer that has spread to the brain from another part of the body. Imaging tests show photos of the inside of the body. Your doctor may consider the following factors when it comes to choosing a diagnostic test:
- The type of tumor suspected
- The signs and symptoms you experience
- Your age and general health
- The results of earlier medical tests
Most brain tumors are not diagnosed until after the appearance and presence of various symptoms. A brain tumor is often diagnosed by an internist or a doctor who specializes in treating adults or a neurologist is a doctor who specializes in dealing with problems with the brain and the central nervous system.
Aside from asking the patient for a detailed medical history and a physical examination, the doctor may also recommend other types of tests that can help determine the presence and sometimes the type or grade of a brain tumor.
Generally, a brain tumor diagnosis usually begins with magnetic resonance imaging or MRI which uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body. Once MRI shows a tumor in the brain, it is commonly used to determine the type of brain tumor as seen through the results from a tissue sample after a biopsy or surgery.
After the diagnostic tests, your doctor will be reviewing all of the test results with you and explain what those results mean. If the diagnosis is a brain tumor, additional tests would be done to learn more about the tumor. The results from these tests help the doctor in describing the tumor and planning for your treatment.