Brain cancer is a condition of the brain in which cancer cells arise in the brain tissue. These cells can grow to form a mass of cancer tissue or tumor, which can interfere with the functions of the brain.
Tumors which are composed of cancer cells are known as malignant tumors, and those which are composed of mostly noncancerous cells are known as benign tumors. Cancer cells that develop from the brain tissue are termed as primary brain tumors, while tumors that have spread from other body sites to the brain are known as metastatic or secondary brain tumors.
Signs & symptoms
The signs and symptoms of brain cancer generally depend on the size and location of the tumor.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Headaches that are generally worse in the morning
- Difficulty walking
- A lack of coordination
- A lack of balance
- Difficulty thinking
- Memory lapses
- Speech problems
- Vision problems
- Muscle jerking
- Muscle twitching
- Changes in one’s personality
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
- Abnormal eye movements
- Unexplained passing out
It is notable that some of the symptoms of brain cancer are also caused by other, less serious conditions and therefore, if you experience these symptoms, there is no need to panic, but it might be a good idea to consult your doctor to evaluate your symptoms just in case.
Causes & risk factors
What exactly leads to brain cancer is unknown. However, certain factors are known to increase the risk of brain cancer, which includes high doses of ionizing radiation and having a family history of brain cancer. Sometimes, cancer in another part of your body also increases the risk. Cancers in the lung, breast, kidney, bladder, or melanoma, a type of skin cancer, are known to spread to the brain commonly.
Other factors that are related to developing brain cancer include:
- Long-term smoking
- Increased age
- Exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer
- Working with cancer-causing elements like lead, plastic, petroleum, etc.
- Having an Epstein-Barr virus infection, or mononucleosis
For the diagnosis of brain cancer, the initial test is an interview that includes a medical history and physical examination of the person by a healthcare provider. The results generally determine if any other specific tests are required.
Most frequently, a CT scan is generally used for the diagnosis of brain cancer. This test resembles a series of X-rays, and in some cases, a dye also needs to be injected into a vein for better images of some of the internal brain structures. MRI is also popular due to its high sensitivity for detecting anatomic changes in the brain. This test is even known to detect structures of the brain better than a CT scan.
If the tests show evidence of tumors or abnormalities in your brain, then the doctors such as neurologists and neurosurgeons are going to be consulted about the treatment. Sometimes, a sample of the tissue, i.e. a biopsy might also be obtained by surgery, to determine the diagnosis.
Other tests might also be ordered by your healthcare provider if they think it is necessary to determine the patient’s state of health or to detect any other health problems.
There are various types of treatments for brain cancer. Treatment for primary brain cancer might be different than treatment for metastatic brain tumors.
Generally, treatments for metastatic cancer are more focused on the original cancer site. Depending on the type, size, and location of the tumor, you might receive one or more treatments. Some of the treatment options include:
The most common treatment for brain cancer is generally surgery. Only a part of the tumor is removable sometimes, due to its location. In such cases, when the tumor is a sensitive or inaccessible area of the brain, such tumors are referred to as inoperable.
Your doctor might prescribe medications as well, for treating the symptoms as well as side effects of cancer and the cancer treatments.
There is no known way for preventing brain cancers. However, early diagnosis as well as treatment is known drastically reduce the risk of metastatic brain tumors. You are also at a lower risk of developing cancer if you:
- Avoid exposure to pesticides and insecticides
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation
- Avoid exposure to any kind of carcinogenic chemicals
- Avoid smoking
However, the exact causes that initiate brain cancer, especially primary brain cancer, is still not known to modern science. Therefore, specific preventive measures are still unknown.