Brain cancer develops due to an abnormal overgrowth of cancerous cells in the brain tissue. It can start in any part of the brain, including the sinuses, nasal cavity, brainstem, or skull base. The cancer cells form masses referred to as tumors which can be fast-growing or slow-growing.
The brain tumors that begin in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Sometimes, cancer can originate in another part of the body and spread to the brain. These are called secondary brain tumors or metastasized brain cancer. Common cancers that can metastasize to the brain include lung, colon, kidney, breast, and skin cancer.
Luckily, the best neurosurgery centers, like Dickinsonnearosurgery.com, are committed to improving the quality of lives of brain cancer patients. Through surgery and other supportive care options, the multidisciplinary team of brain cancer experts helps those affected to manage the illness and improve the outcomes.
Also, a thorough understanding of the basics of brain cancer can help you better comprehend what you or your loved one might be facing and how to get personalized care. Therefore, here is a detailed guide to brain cancer.
- Brain Tumor Types
The different types of brain tumors are named based on the cells that form the tumor or their location in your brain. They’re also given a grade ranging from 1 to 4. Grade 1 means the tumor is slow-growing (benign), while a score of 4 indicates the fastest growth (malignant). The common types of brain tumors comprise the following:
- Gliomas: They originate from the glial cells which surround nerve cells in the brain. Types of gliomas include astrocytoma, glioblastoma, ependymoma, and oligodendroglioma. Astrocytoma is the fastest-growing type of brain tumor.
- Meningiomas: They form in the membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. They’re one of the slow-growing brain tumors and are prevalent in adults.
- Gangliogliomas: They form in the glial cells and neurons. They’re slow-growing tumors and can be treated through surgery.
- Nerve tumors: These growths mostly happen around the cranial nerves. A common type of brain nerve tumor is an acoustic neuroma. It usually forms on the main nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain tissue. It’s also referred to as schwannoma.
- Pineal tumors: They originate in and around the pineal gland situated in the center of the brain. Pineal brain tumors are commonly found in children.
- Medulloblastomas: They’re fast-growing tumors that develop on the brain’s nerve cells. Medulloblastomas are also common in children.
- Craniopharyngiomas: They form between the pituitary gland and the brain, and are slow-growing.
- Choroid plexus tumors: They originate in the cells that make cerebrospinal fluid and can be benign or malignant.
- Embryonal tumors: They happen in embryonal cells, which are left over in the brain after birth. Embryonal tumors are prevalent in babies.
- Pituitary tumors: They form in and around the pituitary gland, which is situated near the base of the brain. Most pituitary tumors are benign.
Moreover, other rare types of tumors may form in and around the brain tissue. For example, they can begin in the blood vessels, connective tissues, or muscles in or around the brain. Also, others may happen in the bones of the skull.
While the primary cause of an overgrowth of cancer cells in the brain is unknown, experts link it to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation. The common sources of such radiation are X-rays, CT scans, radiation therapy treatment techniques, and workplace exposure.
Also, health professionals have identified potential risk factors that may raise the risk of developing brain cancer. They include the following:
- Age: The risk of developing most brain cancers increases as you age. Even so, some brain cancers, such as astrocytoma, ependymoma, and medulloblastoma, mostly affect children.
- Family history and genetic conditions: Your risk of getting brain cancer is higher if you have a family history of brain cancer. Also, inherited syndromes or genetic conditions may predispose an individual to the overproduction of specific cancerous cells. These syndromes include neurofibromatosis, li-Fraumeni, basal cell nevus, and Lynch syndrome.
- Exposure to chemical substances: Studies suggest that high exposure to certain chemical substances—such as those in pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides—can increase the risk of brain tumors.
- Overweight or obesity: Being obese is linked to an increased risk of meningioma brain tumor. Ideally, excess weight may cause excess production of estrogen and insulin, which promote the development of meningioma.
Also, as stated earlier, cancers originating and spreading from other body parts cause secondary brain cancer.
Brain cancer symptoms may vary depending on the tumor size and the location. That’s because various parts of the brain control different body functions. Even so, at the early stages, cancers may share several symptoms. The following are the common signs and symptoms of brain cancer:
- Severe headaches usually worse in the morning
- Memory lapses
- Eye problems, particularly blurry vision, seeing double, or abnormal eye movements
- Lack of coordination and balance
- Numbness in the arms or legs
- Muscle twitching and jerking
- Speech problems
- Hearing problems
- Personality and behavior changes
Notably, these signs and symptoms are common for other health conditions, so there are chances that they may not indicate brain cancer. However, if they persist, scheduling an appointment with your healthcare provider for comprehensive diagnostic testing is crucial. Also, keep in mind that you can also have a brain tumor without symptoms. For example, meningioma is a slow-growing brain tumor that often doesn’t trigger any signs or symptoms until later stages when it’s very large to cause severe problems.
If you exhibit symptoms of brain cancer, your doctor can do the following tests and examinations to provide a diagnosis:
- Neurological examination: Tests different parts of the brain to determine an area with a problem. Your doctor may examine your vision, hearing, coordination and balance, and reflexes. If your provider notices a problem in any of these areas, they’ll perform further diagnosis.
- Neurocognitive assessment: It’s a performance-based diagnosis to assess brain function, especially changes in cognition, to determine potential brain problems. For example, if a tumor is affecting your brain.
- Brain scans: Imaging tests—such as CT scans, MRI, X-rays, and PET scans—display the inside brain more clearly and can help your doctor identify the location of the brain tumor.
- Brain biopsy: It’s a surgical procedure whereby a small part of the tumor is removed for further diagnostic testing. This way, they can determine whether the brain tumor is cancerous and, if yes, how aggressive it is. Alternatively, your doctor can perform a stereotactic needle biopsy. It’s a procedure that uses computer technology to guide a needle through the skull to the brain to remove a piece of tissue from the tumor for testing. A needle biopsy is usually recommended if the doctor thinks a surgical procedure might affect a critical part of the brain.
- Lumbar puncture: This procedure entails the collection of a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord to test if it has traces of cancer cells.
The doctors will then use all the details from the diagnostic tests to comprehend your prognosis better. That is the likelihood that brain cancer can be treated. The factors that may influence your prognosis include the following:
- Type and size of the brain tumor
- How fast the tumor is growing or spreading
- Part of the brain affected
- DNA changes present in the brain tumor cells
- Overall health and well-being
Discuss with your doctor to understand more about your prognosis.
- Treatment Options
Brain cancer treatment mainly focuses on tumor removal and destruction of cancer cells. This significantly improves survival rates, mainly if the tumor is slow-growing or the cancer is in the early stages. The treatment options might include the following:
- Surgery: Brain surgery aims to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible safely. Some brain tumors can be removed entirely by separating them from the surrounding brain tissues. However, tumors near critical brain parts are often difficult to remove. Completely separating these tumors from the nearby brain tissues is risky, so the doctor might remove the tumor partially as is safe. This is referred to as subtotal resection.
- Radiation therapy: This process uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill tumor cells that can’t be surgically removed.
- Chemotherapy: This involves using strong chemotherapy medicines which can be injected or taken in pill form to kill or shrink tumor cells. Doctors often combine chemotherapy and radiation therapy for better outcomes.
- Radiosurgery: It’s an intense form of radiation therapy. It aims carefully shaped beams of radiation from various angles at the brain tumor to destroy the cancerous cells. The different types of radiosurgery include linear accelerator, gamma knife, and proton radiosurgery.
Also, you may need after-treatment options to help restore function to the affected part of your brain. Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend these:
- Speech therapy to help you speak
- Physical therapy to help you regain motor function
- Occupational therapy to assist you in resuming routine activities, such as work
- Tutoring to help children with thinking and cope with memory lapses
Additionally, note that you can reduce your risk of developing brain cancer by avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation or carcinogenic chemicals.
A comprehensive understanding of brain cancer can help you make informed decisions about your care or that of your loved one. The above guide clarifies the basics of brain cancer, including the types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Most importantly, remember that brain cancer is a life-threatening condition, so if you exhibit any symptoms, it’s best to consult your doctor immediately. Also, ensure you seek prompt treatment when the cancer is detected.