A brain tumor refers to a collection of abnormal cells in or around the brain. A highly tough skull protects your brain. Any expansion in such a small area could lead to complications.
Brain tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). The pressure within the skull might increase when benign or malignant tumors get larger. This can result in brain damage, which can be fatal.
There are two types of brain tumors; primary and secondary. The origin of a primary brain tumor is in the brain, where most of them are noncancerous. A secondary brain tumor can also be referred to as a metastatic brain tumor. It develops when cancerous cells from a different organ, like the lung or breast, extend to the brain.
Signs and Symptoms of a Brain Tumor
The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary depending on the tumor's size and location. While some tumors infiltrate brain tissue and inflict direct injury or damage, others put pressure on the nearby brain areas. When a developing tumor exerts pressure on the brain tissue, you will begin to experience symptoms.
A typical sign of a brain tumor is constant headaches. You might have headaches that are much worse when you wake up in the morning, occur while asleep, and aggravate whenever you sneeze, cough, or work out.
In addition, you might notice the following;
- Double or blurry vision
- Convulsions, particularly in adults
- A limb or a section of the face that is weak
- A shift in one's mental state
Other prevalent signs and symptoms that might indicate a brain tumor are;
- Loss of memory
- Being clumsy
- Reading or writing difficulties
- Changes in tasting, smelling, or hearing ability
- Swallowing difficulties
- Reduced alertness, including unconsciousness and drowsiness
- Balance difficulties or loss of balance
- Tingling or numbness on one section of the body
- Shifts in behavior, moods, personality, or emotions
Causes of Brain Tumor
Primary brain tumors develop within the brain or surrounding tissues. It can be the meninges (brain covering membranes), pituitary gland, pineal gland, or cranial nerves. The normal cells adapt mutations or changes in the DNA, which leads to a primary brain tumor.
The DNA of a cell includes the instructions that notify it on how to operate. The alterations instruct the cells to proliferate, multiply fast, and survive even if healthy cells perish. As a result, a tumor forms from a mass of aberrant cells.
There are several forms of primary brain tumors, where each is categorized based on the involved types of cells. They include;
- Pituitary adenomas
- Acoustic neuromas
- Germ cell tumors
On the other hand, metastatic or secondary brain tumors originate from cancers that begin in other body parts. These cancers tend to metastasize to the brain with time. Furthermore, they are more common in individuals with a medical history of a tumor or cancer.
In rare cases, the secondary brain tumor can be the initial indicator of cancer that has already started in another part of the body. This type of brain tumor is much common in adults, unlike primary brain tumors.
Any type of cancer can metastasize to the brain. Nonetheless, the most common forms are colon cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma, and lung cancer.
Risk Factors of Brain Tumor
The risk factors that can contribute to a brain tumor are;
Family history: Approximately five to ten percent of all malignancies are hereditary. This means that those with a family history of brain tumors or genetic disorders that add to the risk of a brain tumor account for a relatively small percentage of brain cancers.
Radiation exposure: Ionizing radiation has been linked to an elevated risk of brain tumors among individuals exposed to it. Radiation therapy for cancer patients and atomic bomb radiation exposure are both examples of ionizing radiation.
Age: Most forms of brain tumor risks tend to increase as a person ages.
Brain Tumor Diagnosis
A physical examination and a review of your medical history are usually the first brain tumor diagnostic procedures. A thorough neurological evaluation is part of the physical examination.
The doctor will do a test to determine whether or not your cranial nerves are healthy. Cranial nerves are those that come from the brain. Your doctor can also use an ophthalmoscope to examine the inside of your eyes. This is a device that flashes a light via the pupils and onto the retinas. It makes it possible to see how the pupils respond to light. It also enables the doctor to see directly into your eyes and check for any optic nerve enlargement. Changes within the optic nerve can occur as the pressure in the skull rises.
If need be, your doctor can as well examine your coordination, muscle strength, memory, and capacity to perform calculations. Other additional diagnostic tests and procedures you might undergo following physical exam include;
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
CT scans allow your doctor to acquire a more comprehensive picture of your body. It's possible to achieve this with or with no contrast. During a CT scan of the head, contrast is created by introducing a special dye. This allows doctors to view certain structures, such as blood arteries.
- X-ray of the skull
A brain tumor can create fractures or breakage within the skull bones, which can be detected with specialized x-rays. Calcium deposits, which are at times present in the tumors, can also be seen using these x-rays. If the tumor has spread to the bones, calcium deposits might be present in the bloodstream.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A special dye could be useful during a head MRI to assist the physician in detecting malignancies. An MRI differs from a CT scan in that it does not use radiation and typically produces far more comprehensive images of the brain's structure.
Angioplasty involves injecting dye into the artery, mainly in the groin area. The dye will flow to your brain's arteries, enabling your doctor to check how the tumors' blood supply appears. This information will come in handy during surgery.
- A biopsy
A biopsy involves removing a small sample of the tumor. The sample will be sent to a lab where a specialist known as a neuropathologist will thoroughly assess it. The test results will show if the tumor cells are noncancerous or malignant. The biopsy will also reveal whether your cancer started in your brain or elsewhere in your body.
Brain Tumor Treatment
Brain tumor treatment is usually based on the tumor’s size, type, and location. The medical provider can recommend one or a combination of treatments options to address the brain tumor. They can include the following;
Brain tumor surgery is the most common treatment option for a cancerous tumor. The main objective is to take out as much cancer as possible while avoiding damage to the brain's healthy regions. The position of certain tumors enables easy and safe excision. However, the location of others may limit the tumors to eliminate. Sometimes, even partial brain tumor excision can be advantageous.
This treatment uses anti-cancer medications to kill and eliminate cancer cells in the brain and the entire body. Chemotherapy can be given as an injection or taken in tablet form. In rare circumstances, providers will use chemotherapy prior to surgery to shrink the tumor. Also, following surgery, your doctor may use chemotherapy to destroy any cancer cells that remain or stop tumor cells from developing.
- Radiation therapy
This therapy uses high dosages of x-rays to kill brain tumor cells and sometimes shrink the tumor. Before surgery, some patients receive radiation to reduce a brain tumor to make it easy for the surgeon to take out less tissue.
This is also known as biological therapy. It’s a form of cancer treatment that utilizes the body's immune system to combat brain tumors. The primary goal of the treatment is to stimulate the immune system so that it can perform its function more efficiently.
In the traditional sense, stereotactic radiosurgery is not a type of surgery. On the contrary, radiosurgery employs numerous radiation beams to deliver a highly targeted type of treatment that destroys brain tumor cells in a very minute region. Every radiation beam isn't extremely powerful. However, the location where they all assemble at the brain tumor gets a massive dosage of radiation to kill cancer.
- Targeted therapy
This includes drugs that target particular traits in cancerous cells while preserving the healthy cells. If you are having problems with the adverse effects of chemotherapy, like exhaustion and nausea, the doctor may suggest targeted therapy.
A brain tumor occurs due to abnormal cell growth in the brain and can either be benign or malignant. It can interfere with the function of the brain when it grows bigger, hence putting pressure on the nearby blood vessels, tissue, or nerves.
The speed at which a brain tumor grows varies substantially. The rate of growth of a brain tumor, as well as its location, defines how it will influence the function of your neurological system. In addition, the form of brain tumor you have, its size and location, determine your treatment options.