A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Brain tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most brain tumors start in other parts of the body and spread to the brain. This condition is called metastatic brain cancer. The most common type of metastatic brain cancer is breast cancer.
Brain tumors can also start in the brain. Brain tumors can occur at any age but most commonly affect people over 60. also is one type of brain tumor in young adults.
There are many types of brain tumors. The type of brain tumor depends on its location in the brain and the type of cell involved.
Most brain tumors are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Benign brain tumors can still be severe and cause symptoms because they grow and press on sensitive areas in the brain.
Malignant brain tumors are cancerous and can spread to other parts of the body. Malignant brain tumors are more likely to come back after treatment than benign tumors.
Brain tumors can cause a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the tumor's location. Common signs of brain tumors in adults include headache, seizures, nausea and vomiting, vision problems, memory problems, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, difficulty swallowing, weakness, or paralysis.
There are many types of brain tumors in young adults and elders.
1) Astrocytomas: These tumors arise from star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes. They are the most common type of brain tumor. There are four main types of astrocytomas: diffuse astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma, glioblastoma, and brainstem glioma. This is one of the most common types of brain tumors in young adults.
2) Meningiomas: These tumors develop in the meninges, the thin layer of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningiomas are usually benign tumors, but can be cancerous. These tumors are another of the most common primary type of brain tumor in adults.
3) Medulloblastomas: These tumors develop in the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination. Medulloblastomas are the most common type of brain tumor in children.
4) Schwannomatosis: This rare type of tumor develops on the nerves that supply feeling to the skin.
5) Ependymomas: These tumors develop on the ependymal cells, which line the brain's ventricles (fluid-filled cavities). There are three main types of ependymoma: subependymoma, myxopapillary ependymoma, and clear cell ependymoma.
6) Oligodendrogliomas: These tumors arise from oligodendrocytes, which are cells that make up the myelin sheath (a fatty covering) that surrounds and protects nerve cells.
7) Choroid plexus papillomas: These tumors develop in the choroid plexus, a network of blood vessels and supportive tissue in the brain's ventricles. Choroid plexus papillomas are usually benign tumors.
8) Craniopharyngiomas: These tumors develop near the pituitary gland, a small endocrine gland at the base of the brain that controls hormone production. Craniopharyngiomas are usually benign tumors.
9) Germ cell tumors: These tumors develop from germ cells, which are the cells that give rise to sperm or eggs. Germ cell tumors can be either benign or cancerous.
The exact cause of brain cancer is unknown. However, several risk factors are associated with an increased risk of developing brain cancer, including:
- Age: The risk of brain cancer increases with age. Most brain tumors get diagnosed in people over the age of 60.
- Gender: Brain cancer is more common in men than women.
- Family history: A family member with brain cancer increases the risk of developing the disease.
- Radiation exposure: People exposed to ionizing radiation (such as X-rays or radiation therapy) have an increased risk of developing brain cancer.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: People exposed to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride or pesticides, have an increased risk of developing brain cancer.
- Immune system problems: People with weakened immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS or who have had an organ transplant) have an increased risk of developing brain cancer.
- Previous cancer diagnosis: People diagnosed with another type of cancer are at an increased risk of developing brain cancer.
If a person has symptoms potentially caused by brain cancer, their doctor will likely order one or more of the following tests:
- Imaging tests: These tests help create pictures of the inside of the body. Standard imaging tests used to diagnose brain cancer include computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
A biopsy is a procedure in which a small tissue sample is removed from the body and examined for cancer cells. A doctor can perform a biopsy using various methods, including surgery, needle biopsy, and endoscopic biopsy.
- Cerebrospinal fluid test involves removing a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) and testing it for cancer cells.
- Neurological exam: This is a physical exam of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The doctor will test a patient's vision, hearing, balance, coordination, and strength during a neurological exam.
- Neuropsychological testing: This cognitive testing assesses thinking, memory, and behavior. Neuropsychological testing can determine how a person's brain tumor affects their cognitive abilities.
One of the most common symptoms of brain cancer is a headache. The headache usually worsens in the morning and gets better as the day continues. Other symptoms of brain cancer include:
If a person experiences any of these symptoms of brain cancer, it is essential to see a doctor to diagnose and treat the cause.
Brain cancer can cause several complications, such as:
- Brain damage: Brain cancer can cause damage to the brain. This damage can lead to problems with thinking, feeling, and controlling the body.
- Seizures: Seizures are a common complication of brain cancer. Seizures happen when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
- Brain swelling: Brain cancer can cause the brain to swell. This swelling can lead to increased pressure inside the skull, which can be very dangerous.
While brain cancer can be severe, with early diagnosis and treatment, many people with brain cancer live long and healthy lives.
The treatment for brain tumors depends on the type of tumor, its location, and the person's age and overall health. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Treatment for brain tumors also may involve clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments in people.
People with brain tumors may also receive palliative care, which is caring to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life without treating the underlying disease.
There is no sure way to prevent brain tumors. However, some things may help lower the risk of developing a brain tumor, such as:
- Not Smoking: Smoking is a risk factor for brain tumors. Quitting smoking can help reduce the risk of developing a brain tumor.
- Wearing sunscreen: ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage DNA and increase the risk of developing a brain tumor. Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher can help protect against UV damage.
- Avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, can increase the risk of developing a brain tumor. Avoiding exposure to these chemicals can help reduce the risk.
- Getting vaccinated: There is a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a risk factor for brain tumors. The HPV vaccine can help protect against this virus.
- Eating a healthy diet: Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods may help reduce the risk of developing a brain tumor.
- Exercising regularly: Exercising regularly has many health benefits, including reducing the risk of developing a brain tumor.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many diseases, including brain tumors. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the development of a brain tumor.
- Getting regular medical checkups: Getting regular checkups can help find cancers early when they are most likely to be curable.
- Checking for family history of cancer: Having a family member with cancer can increase the risk of developing cancer oneself. Knowing if a family history of cancer can help people make informed decisions about their health.
These lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer, not just brain tumors. Adopting these healthy habits may also help improve the overall quality of life.