A brain tumor is the result of abnormal cell growth within the brain or inside the skull. These cell can either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). More than 35,000 people in the US are told each year they have a tumor which started in the brain.
Malignant (cancerous) tumors:
- Are also known as brain cancer
- The cancer cells in malignant tumors grow fast and can spread into other parts of the brain or spinal chord, but rarely into other parts of the body
- Are often life threatening
Benign (non-cancerous) tumors:
- Have a clear edge and are unlikely to start invading neighbouring cells
- Can be removed and usually do not grow back
- Can exert pressure on sensitive areas in the brain and create health problems from headaches to comas, and can even cause death
- Benign tumors may develop into malignant tumors
The causes of brain tumors are still unclear. Doctors can rarely explain why one person develops the condition while another one doesn’t. However, research has pointed to two factors that could increase a person’s risk of getting a tumor:
Ionizing radiation, such as that acquired through large doses of x-rays, through radiation therapy to the head for example
Family history – though brain tumors do not run in many families, a history of it could increase an individual’s susceptibility to the disease
Potential causes such as the use of a cell phone or exposure to magnetic fields remain unverified by researchers.
All symptoms of a brain tumor are dependent on its type, size and where in the brain it is positioned (i.e. which nerves it is exerting pressure on).
Common symptoms include:
- Vomiting (sometimes without nausea)
- Changes in mood, behaviour and personality
- Problems with vision, speech or hearing
- Memory loss
- Seizures or convulsions
There are multiple ways to diagnose a brain tumor, and involve neurological examinations, brain scans and potentially the analysis of brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid. Click here for more information on diagnosis.
The treatment available for brain tumors usually involves one or a combination of the following:
Treatment and success rate is dependent on the size and grade of the tumor, where in the brain it is positioned, and on the patient’s age and health.
Singer Bob Marley, actor Slim Pickens and comedian Pat Paulsen are among celebrities to have suffered from a brain tumor.
Image attribution: Wikimedia File:DNET02.jpg