Brain tumor facts medically edited by: Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD
- The brain is the body organ composed of nerve cells and supportive tissues like glial cells and meninges – there are three major parts – they control your activity like breathing (brain stem), activity like moving muscles to walk (cerebellum) and your senses like sight and our memory, emotions, thinking and personality (cerebrum).
- Primary brain tumors can be either malignant (contain cancer cells) or benign (do not contain cancer cells). A primary brain tumor is a tumor which begins in the brain tissue. If a cancerous tumor starts elsewhere in the body, it can spread cancercells, which grow in the brain. These type of tumors are called secondary or metastatic brain tumors.
- Brain tumors can occur at any age.
- Researchers and doctors do not know exact cause of brain tumors.
- Risk factors include exposure to ionizing radiation and family history of brain tumors.
- The signs symptoms of brain tumors depend on their size, type, and location. The most common signs symptoms include headaches; numbness or tingling in the arms or legs; seizures; memory problems; mood and personality changes; balance and walkingproblems; nausea and vomiting; or changes in speech, vision, or hearing.
- Doctors group brain tumors are classified by grade (grade I, grade II, grade III, or grade IV -the most severe). The grade is determined by the way the cells look under a microscope. The higher the grade number, the more abnormal the cells appear, and the more aggressively the tumor usually behaves.
- The most common types of primary brain tumors among adults are astrocytoma, meningiom (a tumor that arises from the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and oligodendroglioma.
- The most common type of primary brain tumors in children are medulloblastoma, grade I or II astrocytoma, (or glioma) ependymoma, and brain stem glioma.
- Studies have found risk factors for brain tumors to include ionizing radiation from high dose X-rays (for example, radiation therapy where the machine is aimed at the head), and family history.
- Diagnosis of a brain tumor is done by a neurologic exam (by a neurologist or neurosurgeon), CT (computer tomography scan) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other tests like an angiogram, spinal tap and biopsy. Your diagnosis helps predict the treatment.
- Neurologists base the treatment of brain tumors on the type, location, and size of the tumor, your health, and age. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy (or a combination of treatments).
- Supportive care is important before, during and after treatment to minimize symptoms and to improve your quality of life.
Some patients can qualify for clinical trials. Contact information is provided at the end of this article.