Brain Tumor and Brain Cancer
A brain tumor is a disease in which cells grow uncontrollably in the brain. Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells divide uncontrollably they form a mass of tissue. The mass is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer usually refers to malignant tumors. These can invade nearby tissue and can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not spread, but it can press structures near it causing symptoms.
There are two main types of brain tumors:
- Primary brain cancer begins in the brain. It can be either benign or malignant. A small benign tumor in a bad location can cause significant problems.
- Secondary or metastatic brain cancer has spread to the brain from another site in the body. All metastatic tumors are malignant.
These factors increase your chance of developing brain tumors:
- Immune system dysfunction
- Family history of rare types of cancer
Any cancer throughout the body can spread to the brain. The following is a list of the most common tumors that may spread to the brain at some point:
Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and location. A growing tumor will often have surrounding fluid buildup called edema. Edema puts pressure on the brain. Symptoms may develop gradually or rapidly.
Symptoms may include:
Headache—Most headaches are not caused by brain tumors. Headaches due to brain tumors tend to have the following features:
- Progressively worse over a period of weeks to months
- Worse in the morning or cause you to wake during the night
- Different than a normal headache
- Worsens with change of posture, straining, or coughing
Note: These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions. If you are experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be performed. You will have a neurologic exam. It will test muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, response to stimuli, and alertness. The doctor will also look into your eyes to check for signs of brain swelling.
Tests may include:
Once cancer is found, further tests may be performed if there is concern that the cancer has spread. Treatment depends on the type, size, and location of the cancer, and your overall health. Treatments may leave you with physical or mental limitations.
Before beginning treatment, you may take medications, including:
- Steroids to decrease swelling and fluid buildup:
These medications may only be helpful if you have a history of seizure disorder.
Surgical procedures include:
- Craniotomy—opening the skull to remove the tumor or as much of the tumor as possible
- Shunt—implanting a long thin tube in the brain to divert built-up fluid to another part of the body
The use of
External Radiation Therapy
Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body. If you have a metastatic brain tumor, you will receive whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT). If you have a primary brain tumor, you will receive more focused radiation therapy. WRBT may also be used in people who have cancer in other areas of the body. The treatment is used to prevent brain cancer.
Internal Radiation Therapy
Radioactive materials placed into the body near the cancer cells. This is used less often.
Higher doses can be delivered to the affected areas of the brain. Nearby normal tissue can be spared. Special equipment, including MRI and CT scans, help to localize the delivery of the radiation.
This is most often used in metastatic brain tumors or in benign brain tumors, such as
Rehabilitation therapy includes:
- Physical therapy to help with walking, balance, and building strength
- Occupational therapy to help with mastering life skills, such as dressing, eating, and using the toilet
- Speech therapy to help express thoughts and overcome swallowing difficulties
If you are diagnosed with brain cancer or a brain tumor, follow your doctor's instructions .
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American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
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Last reviewed September 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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