What is Brain Tumor?

Everything you wanted to know and understand about Brain Tumor
Brain Tumor generally represents a mass or collection of abnormal cells inside the brain.

Human skull is basically very rigid and encloses the brain.

Likewise, any sort of growth inside the restricted space may result in serious problems.

Brain tumors can evolve to become cancerous (i.e. malignant) or noncancerous (i.e. benign).

Once malignant or benign tumors start growing, they cause pressure increase inside the skull.

That can result in serious brain damage, threaten human life.

Brain Tumors can be primary or secondary.

Primary Brain Tumor originates inside the brain.

A number of Primary Brain Tumors belong to benign category.

Secondary Brain Tumor (aka metastatic brain tumor) happens once cancer cells originate from another organ (e.g. breast or lung) and then start spreading inside the brain.

General Types of Brain Tumor

The section below describes the abovementioned Brain Tumor types in details.

Primary Brain Tumors

As mentioned above, Primary Brain Tumors start their origin from the brain itself and can develop from:

  • Membranes surrounding the brain (i.e. meninges);
  • Brain Cells;
  • Glands;
  • Nerve Cells.

Primary Tumors divide into cancerous or benign.

The most common Brain Tumor types observed among adults are meningiomas and gliomas.

Gliomas

Gliomas represent tumor type that develops from glial cells, which:

  • Supply nutrition to CNS (Central Nervous System);
  • Provide a support to the Central Nervous System structure;
  • Break down the neurons that are dead;
  • Perform cleaning of cellular waste.

Gliomas can develop from various glial cells types.

The tumor types that are begin in glial cells are:

  • Oligodendroglial tumors – usually found inside the frontal temporal lobe;
  • Astrocytic tumors (i.e. astrocytomas) – originate inside the cerebrum;
  • Glioblastomas (the most aggressive type) – originate inside the supportive brain tissues.

Other primary brain tumors include the following:

  • Pineal gland tumors – can be malignant and/or benign;
  • Pituitary tumors – generally benign;
  • Craniopharyngiomas – generally occur among children and usually are benign, however can result in clinical symptoms, e.g. vision alteration, premature puberty etc.
  • Ependymomas – usually benign;
  • Primary germ cell tumors in the brain – can appear as both malignant and benign;
  • Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphomas – always malignant;
  • Schwannomas – appear in cells producing the protective cover for nerves (i.e. myelin sheath) and also known as Schwann cells;
  • Meningiomas – originate from meninges.

Majority of schwannomas and meningiomas develop in patients of 40 – 70 age group.

Meningiomas mostly develop among women, while Schwannomas can develop both among women and men.

Those tumor types are generally benign, however still can result in certain complications due to location and size.

Cancerous schwannomas and meningiomas can rarely be met, however they are very aggressive.

Secondary brain tumors

Majority of brain cancer types belong to secondary brain tumor group. Initially, they appear in one certain body part and then spread, (i.e. metastasize) to the brain itself.

The following cancer types are able to metastasize to the brain:

  • breast cancer
  • lung cancer
  • skin cancer
  • kidney cancer

Secondary brain tumors can only be malignant. Benign tumors generally do not spread from one body part to another.

General risk factors contributing to a Brain Tumor

Please familiarize yourself with the following general risk factors that contribute to brain tumor development in order to properly monitor and understand all the symptoms of this sickness

Family history

Around 5-10 percent of all cancer cases result from genetic inheritance.

As you can see, in general brain tumors are rarely inherited with genes.

However, it is still required that you talk with your healthcare provider to verify how many family members of yours have been previously diagnosed with brain tumor.

Age

In general, based on a number of researches and observations it has been concluded that the risk of majority of brain tumors tends to have direct relation to aging.

Race

Racial factor also plays its role in the brain tumors development.

Likewise, most commonly Caucasians are diagnosed with brain tumor, whereby African-American patients have a higher likelihood to get meningiomas.

Exposure to chemicals

Exposure to certain types of chemicals may increase the brain cancer risk.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health keeps a list of chemicals that have a potential to cause cancer and can be found in general work locations.

Radiation Exposure

People who history of being exposed to ionizing radiation, are under increased risk of developing brain tumors.

The exposure to ionizing radiation can occur during high-radiation cancer therapies. In addition, nuclear fallout can also expose you to radiation.

For example, the incidents at nuclear power plants located in Chernobyl and Fukushima are perfect examples of the way people can get exposed to ionizing radiation.

No history of chicken pox

Based on the researches done by the American Brain Tumor Association, people who have a history of chicken pox during childhood, are under a lower risk of developing brain tumors.

General Brain Tumor Symptoms that you should be aware of

Generally, brain tumor symptoms depend on size and location of the tumor itself. Likewise, certain tumor types may result in direct damage via invasion of brain tissue, while other tumors exert the pressure on the surrounding brain.

Once the tumor starts growing, you will notice the distinctive symptoms when there is a pressure on your brain tissues.

The common symptoms of a brain tumor and frequent headaches, like the ones that:

  • become worse in the morning once you wake up;
  • happen during sleep;
  • become worse when sneezing, coughing or exercising.

In addition, you may also experience one of the following symptoms:

  • blurry or double vision;
  • vomiting;
  • seizures (mostly among adult patients);
  • overall confusion;
  • mental functioning changes;
  • weakness observed in limbs or face parts.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Loss of memory;
  • Overall clumsiness;
  • Difficulties during reading or writing;
  • General confusion;
  • Reduced alertness, including loss of consciousness and drowsiness;
  • Changes in hearing, tasting, or smelling abilities;
  • Vertigo or dizziness;
  • Problems when swallowing;
  • Uncontrollable movements;
  • Eye issues (e.g. drooping eyelids, unequal pupils etc.);
  • Loss of balance;
  • Hand tremors;
  • Tingling or numbness on one body side;
  • Loss of bowel control or bladder;
  • Mood swings, changes in emotions, personality and behavior;
  • Problems when speaking or understanding what other people are saying;
  • Overall weakness of muscles in face, arms, or legs;
  • Problems when walking.

Diagnosis of Brain Tumors

Brain Tumor diagnosis starts with a standard physical exam and a verification of your medical history.

The physical exam consists of a detailed neurological exam.

The doctor will perform a test to check the integrity of your cranial nerves, because those nerves originate inside your brain.

Your healthcare specialist will also need to check your eyes with help of ophthalmoscope, which designed to check your retinas.

The purpose of eyes test is to verify how pupils react to the light.

Besides that, it also allows to look check if optic nerves got any swelling, because increase of pressure inside the skull causes changes inside the optic nerve as well.

Besides that, your healthcare provider may also require to check:

  • Coordination;
  • Strength of muscles;
  • Ability to perform basic mathematical calculations;
  • Overall memory.

Based on results of physical exam, your doctor may request additional tests, like:

CT scan of your head – can be completed with or without contrast that allows seeing smaller structures, like blood vessels, in more details.

MRI of the head – doesn’t use radiation comparing to CT scan and is able to generate more precise images of brain structures.

Angiography – a dye injected inside the artery (generally around the groin area) and travels to the arteries inside the brain. It reveals how the blood is supplied to the tumors, which is crucial before the surgery.

Skull X-rays – can help to reveal any bones fractures that had been caused by brain tumors. Besides that, X-rays also can identify calcium deposits that may be located inside the tumor. In addition, calcium deposits may exist in the bloodstream, provided that cancer has spread to bones.

Biopsy – collects a little piece of tumor that is then examined by a neuropathologist to identify whether tumor cells are malignant or benign.

Besides that, it will also confirm the origins of the tumor (e.g. inside the brain or any other body part).

Available Treatments of Brain Tumor

Generally, brain tumor treatment is dependent on:

  • Tumor size;
  • Tumor type;
  • Overall health conditions;
  • Tumor location.

The most widely-practiced treatment of malignant brain tumors is, of course, surgery.

The main objective – remove the maximum amount of cancer, while not causing any damage to other brain parts that are still healthy.

Certain tumors are located in places that allow safe and simple removal, while other tumor types may have a limited-access location, which does not permit a total tumor removal.

However, in such cases even if only a part of brain cancer has been removed – it already has benefits.

The risks associated with brain surgery are bleeding and possible infections.

Generally, even dangerous benign types of tumors can be removed surgically. However, metastatic brain tumors can be treated in accordance with guidelines suitable for the specific type of original cancer.

Alternatively, it is possible to combine surgery with other treatment methods, like chemotherapy as well as radiation therapy.

Nevertheless, occupational therapy, physical therapy, as well as speech therapy can assist in recovery once neurosurgery is completed.

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