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Brain Tumor

  • Brain structures

Definition

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.

What is going on in the body?

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 cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • lung cancer
  • melanoma, a skin cancer
  • testicular cancer

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The people most at risk for brain tumors include:
  • children, especially those who have cancer elsewhere in the body
  • elderly people, especially those at risk for cancer in other areas of the body
  • people who have certain genetic alterations
  • people who have certain inherited diseases, including neurofibromatosis
  • people who have received X-ray exposure to the head
  • people who have weak immune systems, such as those who have immunodeficiency disorders
Many times, however, brain tumors arise for no known reason.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

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.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

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

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

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.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Brain tumors are not contagious. They pose no risk to others.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

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.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

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.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

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.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

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.

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