Brain Tumors2024-06-14T05:41:54-04:00

Brain Tumors

Your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) are the most complex parts of your body and play a role in almost every major body system. They control your thoughts, memory, emotion, touch, motor function, as well as basic life functions such as your heart rate and breathing. Your brain is the center of operations for your body, making healthy brain function a critical component in your well-being.

Understanding Primary and Metastatic Brain Tumors

Brain tumors are a collection of abnormal cells growing and multiplying out of control in your brain. A primary brain tumor begins in the brain and a metastatic or secondary brain tumor spreads to the brain from another organ of the body; your doctors may refer to your brain tumor as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). All brain tumors can grow to damage areas of normal brain tissue and can be life-threatening.

Primary brain tumors are less common than secondary or metastatic brain tumors in adults.  Primary brain tumors may spread to other parts of the brain but largely do not spread to other parts of the body.

Metastatic brain tumors are more common than primary and are named after the body part from which they originate; 25 percent of patients with cancer develop a secondary brain tumor. Any cancer may spread to the brain, however, the most common types of metastatic brain tumors are:

  • Lung
  • Breast
  • Skin
  • Colon
  • Kidney
  • Thyroid

Brain tumors are complex and a diagnosis requires a team of physicians and clinicians to manage your case. Being informed is the first step in understanding your diagnosis and maintaining communication with your medical team.

Brain Tumor Symptoms

Your symptoms can vary based upon the location of the tumor and growth rate. Generally speaking, brain tumor symptoms may include:

  • Recurring headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Poor coordination/loss of balance and/or dizziness
  • Difficulty speaking or comprehending

Be sure to consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Brain Tumor Risk Factors

Most patients diagnosed with brain tumors usually do not have any known risk factors or underlying causes of the disease. It is important to understand that having a risk factor does not necessarily mean you will develop brain tumors and some people with no known risks sometimes develop the disease. However, there are some factors that may increase your chances to develop brain tumors:

  • Radiation exposure: Patients exposed to radiation for the treatment of other types of cancers may be at risk of developing brain tumors. However, the benefits of radiation therapy are always balanced against any side effects that may develop long term for patients.
  • Family history: Brain and spinal cord tumors can occur in patients with a family history of brain tumors or certain genetic disorders may increase the risk of brain tumors.
  • Gender: Generally, more men than women develop brain tumors.
  • Age: 93 percent of primary brain tumors occur in patients over 20 years of age.

Brain Tumor Diagnosis and Staging

If your symptoms point to a potential brain tumor, your doctor conducts a neurological examination followed by an appointment with a neurologist or neurosurgical oncologist for more testing. These specialists may order a number of tests depending on the location and size of the tumor. Some common tests for brain tumors include:

  • Imaging tests: Computed Axial Tomography (CAT/CT Scan) examines soft tissue, bone and blood vessels; Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRI Spect or MRS) measures metabolite levels; Perfusion MRI examines blood flow to the tissues and assessing the aggressiveness of tumors; Functional MRI (fMRI) assists your physician in planning surgery; Positron Emission Tomography (PET) helps provide additional information on perceived abnormal areas.
  • Biopsy: A small tissue sample of the tumor is removed in a surgical procedure and the sample cells are examined in the lab. There are two types of biopsies:
    • Open biopsy: Performed during a craniotomy. In a craniotomy, a piece of skull is removed to remove most or all of the tumor. Samples are examined during surgery and help determine if additional surgery is warranted at that time. Once the tumor is sampled, the skull bone is reattached with screws and plates. Additional samples are examined to determine further treatment options.
    • Stereotactic biopsy: A small needle is inserted externally to remove a small sample of tumor; this is usually used if the area of the tumor is in a hard to reach area.
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture): A small needle is inserted in your lower back to draw cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the clear fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The CSF is sent to the lab to test for the presence of cancer cells or infection.

If your tests determine a brain tumor diagnosis, your medical team develops the best treatment plan specific to you.