Brain tumors are masses of cells that grow within the brain. Slow-growing cells may form a benign, that is, non-cancerous, tumor. Abnormal cells that grow rapidly may form a malignant (cancerous) tumor.
The brain is tightly contained within the closed cavity of the skull. There is very little extra room within the bony skull cavity. A growing brain tumor can destroy brain cells directly or it may put pressure on the nearby tissue and destroy cells. These effects can occur with either a benign or a cancerous tumor.
A brain tumor that starts within the brain is known as a primary brain tumor. Often, a brain tumor grows from cells that metastasize, or spread, from a cancer elsewhere in the body. Some of the cancers that often metastasize the brain include: breast cancercolorectal cancerkidney cancerlung cancermelanoma, a skin cancertesticular cancer
A brain tumor can produce a number of symptoms, depending on its type, size, location, and growth. Some common symptoms of brain tumors include: abnormal sensations, such as numbnessloss of consciousnessmemory lossseizuresspeech impairments, such as difficulty finding the right wordvisual impairmentsweakness, often on one side of the body
As a tumor continues to grow, it may cause increased intracranial pressure, or pressure within the brain. Common symptoms of increased intracranial pressure include: drowsinessheadachesnausea and vomitingsluggish responses
Seizures can occur as a result of irritation between the tumor and the brain. Pituitary tumors usually result in hormone changes such as Cushing's syndrome, a condition in which the adrenal glands produce too much hormone.
The people most at risk for brain tumors include: children, especially those who have cancer elsewhere in the bodyelderly people, especially those at risk for cancer in other areas of the bodypeople who have certain genetic alterationspeople who have certain inherited diseases, including neurofibromatosispeople who have received X-ray exposure to the headpeople who have weak immune systems, such as those who have immunodeficiency disorders
Many times, however, brain tumors arise for no known reason.
It is not possible to prevent tumors that start in the brain. Metastatic tumors can sometimes be prevented by making good lifestyle choices. For example, a person can quit smoking to lower the risk of lung cancer.
Diagnosis of brain tumor begins with a medical history and physical exam. The healthcare professional may order other tests, including a cranial MRI. The MRI is usually followed by surgery to remove the tumor or a biopsy to test for cancer.
Long-term effects depend on the type of brain tumor. If left untreated, noncancerous brain tumors may grow so large that they put pressure on the brain, leading to death.
Brain tumors are not contagious. They pose no risk to others.
Medicines may be used to reduce swelling around the tumor. These include corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone. Furosemide or mannitol may also be used. A craniotomy, or brain surgery, may also be done to reduce intracranial pressure. It is also used to make the correct diagnosis.
Cancerous brain tumors may be removed with a craniotomy. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy after surgery will may help increase the person's chance of survival. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy may be helpful to improve or correct function after the tumor has been treated.
The side effects of steroids, such as weight gain and increased risk of infection, may occur with a long period of treatment. Radiation therapy will usually produce some hair loss. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, and a low red blood cell count, or anemia.
A person's progress depends on the area of the brain that was affected by the tumor and the treatment used. Some people have ongoing disabilities. Others recover completely.
The healthcare professional may order periodic cranial CT scans or cranial MRIs to watch for further problems. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.