Cancer on the Brain

A few facts on brain cancer, one of the most feared diagnoses known to man.

Maybe it was an especially bad or unusual headache that caused you to fear the worst. Or maybe you’ve had cancer before and can’t help but fear that one malignant cell spread to your brain. Whatever is causing your fear, it is well founded, as brain cancer is a dreaded and deadly disease. Thankfully, brain tumors only affect 1 out of every 29,000 men and 1 in 38,000 women across the globe. And not all tumors are malignant.

Before you worry unnecessarily, get to know the symptoms of brain tumors, what causes them, the various types of brain cancer, are how they’re treated.

Mysterious Causes

Like other tumors, no one knows the cause of brain tumors. In fact, why one person gets a brain tumor and another doesn’t remains a mystery to doctors. While there are no clear causes of brain cancer, there are proposed risk factors. These include genetic disposition, environmental toxins, cigarette smoking, radiation, previous bouts with cancer, and having contracted HIV.

Primary Vs. Secondary Tumors

Tumors are growths of abnormal cells and fall into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary tumors start in the brain and can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Secondary tumors, on the other hand, also known as metastatic brain tumors, start in another part of your body and travel to the brain. This type of brain tumor is malignant, fast growing, and unfortunately, more common. Around 25 percent of tumors in the body eventually metastasize and make their way into the brain.

Unfortunately, even when a tumor is benign, it will most likely require treatment.

Because while it may not be a cancer-sized scare, cancerous and noncancerous tumors can both cause problems in the brain as they grow.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of brain tumors are brought about when the tumor presses on or grows into parts of the brain, keeping your brain from working normally or causing it to swell. With some brain tumors, there are no obvious symptoms.

Others may cause symptoms that are difficult or impossible to ignore. Just know that many of the symptoms are not specific to brain tumors. They may be caused by a number of other illnesses, so there is no need to jump to conclusions if you experience one or two of the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

  • headaches that are worse in the morninga change in your headache patterns
  • clumsiness
  • weakness
  • loss of balance
  • memory loss
  • vision or speech problems
  • nausea or vomiting
  • muscle twitching or jerking
  • seizures
  • sleepiness
  • numbness in the arms or legs

In most cases, brain tumor symptoms begin gradually and often go undetected for some time. Occasionally, they come on rapidly or produce stroke-like symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms and there seems to be no other apparent cause, see your healthcare provider. Diagnostic testing is the only way to determine for sure what is causing your symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your doctor suspects a brain tumor, a CT scan or an MRI may be prescribed for a definitive diagnosis. In the rare event that a tumor is found, you’ll be referred to an oncologist or a neuro-oncologist. To determine if the mass is cancerous, a biopsy will be performed.

Typical treatments for a tumor in the brain includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. While surgery is the primary treatment to remove the tumor, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are secondary treatments for tumors that can’t be controlled or completely removed merely by surgery. With brain tumors, no two cases are alike. Therefore, the prognosis for brain cancer is hard to determine. Catching it early and seeking immediate treatment increases your likelihood for the best outcome.

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