Brain Tumor

Brain Tumor

A brain tumor is a lump of irregular cells that grow inside the brain and is generally described as primary or secondary. Primary brain tumors emerge in the brain and are either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), while secondary brain tumors are derived from cancerous cells that originated somewhere else and migrated to the brain. It is unknown what exactly causes primary tumors, but genetics, environmental factors, and viruses may play a significant role in their existence. Secondary brain tumors occur more often than primary.

Noncancerous brain tumors do not normally grow as fast, are easier to extract depending on the area, and are not as likely to return as cancerous tumors. Benign tumors will not attack the surrounding healthy brain tissue, but they can still apply unwanted pressure that can lead to other problems.

Cancerous brain tumors increase in size at a quicker pace, penetrating or obliterating brain tissue in the process. But, unlike malignant cells that form in other sections of the body, primary malignant tumors almost never leave the brain.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a brain tumor correspond with it size, position, and growth rate. Primary and secondary brain tumors can trigger numerous side effects due to their invasion or pressure upon the brain tissue. This can harm or wipe out regions which oversee eyesight, motor skills, equilibrium, verbal communication, hearing, recollection, or behavior. The force that a tumor puts on the brain may also lead to edema, or swelling of neighboring brain tissue. Inflammation of the brain only makes matters worse in terms of symptoms. Here are some typical symptoms:

  • Noticeable difference in headache patterns
  • Headaches that slowly increase in severity and occur more often
  • Inexplicable queasiness or vomiting
  • Difficulty seeing (e.g., blurriness, double vision, decreased peripheral vision)
  • Steady loss of mobility or feeling in arm or leg
  • Balance problems
  • Inability to enunciate
  • Confusion with activities that should be second nature
  • Mood swings
  • Convulsions
  • Trouble hearing
  • Hormonal imbalance (e.g., endocrine system)

Diagnosis

The initial onset of brain tumor symptoms may not be too convincing, which makes diagnosis complicated. Furthermore, other diseases can have identical side effects to brain tumors. Diagnosis of a brain tumor can be an intricate process. First, a physician will probably conduct a neurological exam to test important bodily functions such as eyesight, hearing, balance, dexterity, and reflexes. Based on the outcome of the exam, the doctor may administer at least one of these:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Angiogram
  • Head and skull x-rays
  • Additional brain scans (e.g., magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), positron emission tomography (PET) scan)

If the doctor’s analysis reveals what is apparently a brain tumor, they may perform another test for the presence of cancer in other parts of the body prior to drawing conclusions. Be sure to inform your doctor if you have any history of cancer.

A biopsy is the one test that can definitively tell you whether a brain tumor is cancerous. This procedure can take place during an operation to remove the tumor, or it be obtained by cutting out a tiny sample. If the tumor is situated in an odd spot that is inaccessible through standard biopsy methods, a needle biopsy is the next option. This consists of a surgeon drilling a microscopic hole through the skull where a needle is later inserted. Tissue is then extracted through the needle.

Once enough tissue is gathered, it is placed under a microscope to help categorize the tumor. Further testing may ensue to determine exactly what type of tumor has been found and what treatment will serve the patient best.

Treatment

Brain tumor treatment is contingent upon variables like the type, placement, and mass of the tumor in addition to the patient’s age and overall health. Treatment options for adults are not the same as those available for children.

Brain tumors can be treated through surgical procedures, radiation, and chemotherapy. Currently, vaccines are also being tested for various forms of cancer. Each patient is different, so various combinations of treatment may be utilized that are tailored to that patient’s individual needs. A team composed of a neurosurgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, neurologist, dietitian, social worker, and nurses will be available if the situation calls for them.

Prior to treatment, the majority of patients are prescribed steroids to alleviate swelling or edema of the brain. They may also be given an anticonvulsant medication to handle seizures. If there is serious fluid buildup (hydrocephalus) in the brain, a shunt may be inserted to drain cerebrospinal fluid. A shunt is a skinny, elongated tube that fits into a ventricle of the brain and imbedded underneath the skin to another part of the body such as the abdomen. Using this simple system, fluid can be transported from the brain and absorbed into the abdomen. Sometimes, fluid is also pumped into the heart.

The three most common methods of treatment include:

  • Surgery – the norm in the brain tumor treatment arena. The primary concern is to eliminate as much of the tumor as possible without damaging the healthy tissue adjacent to it. Some tumors can be removed without a trace, but others are only partially or not extracted at all. If the tumor is progressing very slowly, surgeons may choose to hold off on an immediate operation.
  • Radiation – high-powered energy emission exterminates tumor cells in the brain.
  • Chemotherapy – drugs swallowed by mouth or injected directly into the bloodstream through an IV that kill off malignant cells.