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Brain Tumors

Brain tumor is the formation of a mass in the brain due to the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells in brain tissue. Brain tumors can be benign or malignant, but regardless of whether they are cancerous or not, if they grow to exert pressure on surrounding tissues, they can affect brain functions. Brain tumors often present with severe headaches as a symptom, which can have a negative impact on a person's daily life. Treatment options for brain tumors include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, depending on the type or size of the tumor.

What is a brain tumor?


A brain tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue that occurs in the brain as a result of the uncontrolled proliferation and growth of cells in the brain and surrounding tissues. Brain tumors can be benign or malignant and can occur in individuals ranging from infants to adults.


As these tumors grow, they can increase pressure within the skull, leading to the development of brain damage and potentially posing a life-threatening situation.


Furthermore, primary tumors that originate in the brain are referred to as primary brain tumors, while tumors that have originated elsewhere in the body and spread to the brain are called secondary tumors or metastatic brain tumors. The treatment options for brain tumors, which often present with severe headaches as a common symptom, depend on factors such as the size, type, and location of the tumor and may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.


What are the types of brain tumor?


Brain tumors can be categorized into two main types: primary (benign or malignant) brain tumors and secondary (metastatic) brain tumors.


Benign Brain Tumors: Benign brain tumors are not derived from brain cells themselves. They have a relatively slow growth rate and can be easily separated from normal brain tissue. Therefore, most or all of a benign brain tumor can be removed through surgery. The outcomes after surgery are usually very good. Benign brain tumors rarely recur after surgical removal, and they do not have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. However, even though they are not cancerous, benign brain tumors can cause serious health problems when they reach a certain size and exert pressure on sensitive areas of the brain. Over time, there is also a risk that a benign brain tumor may transform into a cancerous one.


Malignant Brain Tumors (Brain Cancer): Malignant brain tumors, on the other hand, are formed from brain cancer cells and have a faster growth rate compared to benign tumors. They can invade and damage nearby brain tissue, making complete surgical removal very challenging. This is because the tumor tissue often infiltrates the functional brain areas, and removing it may result in a loss of brain function. Malignant brain tumors are more likely to recur after surgery. Additionally, metastatic brain tumors, which spread from other parts of the body to the brain, are also considered malignant tumors. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), also known as glioblastoma grade IV astrocytoma, is one of the most aggressive and lethal forms of malignant brain tumors. GBM is a rare disease, with an incidence rate of 2-3 cases per 100,000 individuals. It is notoriously difficult to treat. GBM may manifest with symptoms such as headaches, memory loss, and behavioral changes. Treatment options for GBM typically include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.


What are the risk factors of brain tumors?


Brain tumors can develop when there are changes in the DNA of cells within or near the brain. In addition to structural changes within the brain, factors such as head injuries, genetic factors, age, and exposure to chemicals or radiation can contribute to the formation of brain tumors.

Here are some common causes or risk factors for brain tumors:

  1. Head Injuries: Traumatic head injuries, especially those involving severe trauma, may increase the risk of developing brain tumors.

  2. Genetic Factors: Some genetic conditions and syndromes are associated with a higher risk of brain tumors. These conditions can be inherited from parents and include conditions like neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

  3. Age: Brain tumors can occur at any age, but some types are more common in specific age groups. For example, certain brain tumors are more frequently diagnosed in children, while others are more common in adults and older individuals.

  4. Exposure to Chemicals or Radiation: Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals or ionizing radiation, such as radiation therapy for other medical conditions, may increase the risk of developing brain tumors.

  5. Genetic Syndromes: Some genetic syndromes are associated with an increased risk of brain tumors. These include tuberous sclerosis, Turner syndrome, Lynch syndrome, Cowden syndrome, and Gorlin syndrome.

It's important to note that not everyone with these risk factors will develop a brain tumor, and many cases of brain tumors occur without a clear known cause. Regular medical check-ups and early detection are essential for managing brain tumors and improving treatment outcomes. If you have concerns about your risk factors or symptoms related to brain tumors, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.


What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?


Symptoms that make a person feel unwell, such as headaches, seizures, nausea, vomiting, weakness, along with mental or behavioral changes, paralysis in a part of the body, and issues with vision and speech, are indicative of a brain tumor.


Depending on the affected part of the brain, the symptoms of a brain tumor include:

  1. Severe headaches and a feeling of pressure in the head.

  2. Seizures.

  3. Changes in hearing, vision, smell, and/or hearing.

  4. Weakness or loss of sensation in a part of the body.

  5. Stroke or paralysis.

  6. Repeated, involuntary movements such as convulsions.

  7. Dizziness and loss of balance.

  8. Nausea and vomiting.

  9. Changes in personality and behavior.

  10. Memory and cognitive problems.

  11. Difficulty with fine motor skills.

  12. Difficulty swallowing.

  13. Decreased hearing.

  14. Feeling constantly hungry


How is a brain tumor diagnosed?


The most effective methods used in diagnosing a brain tumor are MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and brain CT (Computed Tomography) scans. Before these tests, a physical examination is conducted by a doctor, during which the symptoms, the individual's medical and genetic history, and a neurological examination known as a neurological assessment measuring a person's vision, balance, coordination, and reflexes are assessed.


Here are the methods commonly used in the diagnosis of a brain tumor:


Brain MRI or CT Scan:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the most preferred imaging test for diagnosing brain tumors. If an MRI is not feasible, a Computed Tomography (CT) scan is a good alternative. Before these tests, a contrast agent, which helps enhance the visibility of the tumor, is injected into your blood vessels. These tests can provide detailed information about the size and precise location of the tumor.


Biopsy:

To determine the type of tumor and whether it is cancerous, a biopsy is often required, which involves taking a tissue sample from the tumor for microscopic examination. A brain surgeon can perform a biopsy during surgery, where they may remove all or part of the tumor. If accessing the tumor is challenging, they may perform a stereotactic biopsy, which involves making a small hole in your skull and using a needle to obtain a tissue sample from the tumor.


Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap):

In a lumbar puncture, a doctor uses a small needle to withdraw cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from around your spine to assess its contents.


Specialized Tests:

Some tests can assist in the diagnosis. For instance, a doctor may request blood tests to check for specific substances released by certain tumors, known as tumor markers, in your blood or cerebrospinal fluid. They may also test for genetic abnormalities characteristic of particular tumors.


What is a brain tumor?


For the treatment of brain tumors, it is first necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis, and the doctor needs to determine the appropriate treatment option for the patient.


Here are the treatments commonly used for brain tumor:


Brain Surgery (Craniotomy): If possible, the tumor is removed through brain surgery called a craniotomy, performed by brain surgeons. Sometimes surgery is done while the patient is awake (you don't feel pain) to minimize damage to functional areas of the brain.

Radiation Therapy: In radiation therapy, high doses of X-rays are used to destroy or shrink brain tumor cells.

Radiosurgery: Radiosurgery is considered a type of radiation therapy that uses highly focused radiation beams (gamma rays or proton beams) to eliminate a tumor. It is not actually considered surgery as it doesn't require an incision.

Brachytherapy: Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy that involves the surgical placement of radioactive seeds, capsules, or other implants directly into or near the cancerous tumor.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells in the brain and throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be administered through injection into the bloodstream or taken as pills. It may be recommended after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells or to prevent further growth.

Immunotherapy: Also known as biological therapy, immunotherapy is a treatment that uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. The therapy primarily involves stimulating your immune system to work more effectively.

Targeted Therapy: In targeted therapy, drugs specifically target certain characteristics of cancer cells without harming healthy cells. If you have trouble tolerating the side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue and nausea, your doctor may recommend targeted therapy.

Watchful Waiting/Active Surveillance: If you have a very small brain tumor that is not causing symptoms, your doctor may monitor and follow up regularly to check if the tumor is growing or causing any issues.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT BRAIN TUMORS

Does a brain tumor kill?

While not all tumors are deadly, there is an exceptional circumstance with brain tumors. Even benign tumors within the brain can be lethal because the brain is enclosed within the skull. Therefore, not all brain tumors are lethal, but they should be monitored closely, and appropriate interventions should be made.


How long does a patient with a brain tumor live?

Patients diagnosed with a brain tumor have an average life expectancy of up to 10 years. Life expectancy can vary depending on the stage or severity of the disease.


What are the end-stage symptoms of a brain tumor?

End-stage symptoms of a brain tumor include severe and frequent headaches, prolonged confusion, hallucinations, memory loss, balance problems, involuntary movements, and loss of appetite.


Where does a brain tumor cause pain?

A brain tumor can cause pressure by developing inside the skull, leading to headaches, which can be severe. In addition to headaches, weakness in the arms and legs, instability, and visual and hearing impairments may occur.


Can a brain tumor be detected through a blood test?

In all cancer types and tumors, an increase in the white blood cell count in the blood can be perceived as a signal. The results of a blood test can be indicative of brain cancer. Different blood tests may be requested for detailed and clear results.

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