Brain tumor

A brain tumor is a collection of abnormal cells in the brain. It accounts for 85 to 90 percent of central nervous system tumors. Nearly 3 lakh people are being diagnosed every year in which 10% are from India. It kills more children and adults under 40 years of age than any other cancer.

A brain tumor can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). When these tumors grow, they cause pressure inside your skull resulting in brain damage. It causes life-threatening problems. The growth rate and location of the tumor determine how it affects the function of your nervous system.

Brain tumor is categorized into two types:

  • Primary-originates in your brain, these tumors are benign

  • Secondary-occurs when cancer spreads to brain from other organs such as lung or breast

The treatment depends on the type of brain tumor you have, its size and location.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms depend on the location and size of the tumor. You will have noticeable symptoms when the tumor starts putting pressure on the brain tissue. Headache is a common symptom that worsens in the morning when you wake up, and while coughing, sneezing, or exercising. Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Vision problems, blurred vision

  • Hearing problems

  • Loss of sensation or movement in arms and legs

  • Speech difficulties

  • Behavioral and mood changes

  • Hearing problems

  • Seizures (especially in adults and in people who doesn’t have a history of seizures)

  • Loss of balance

Risk factors

Only 5% to 20% of all the cancers are hereditary. However, brain tumor does not come in that category. In most of the people, the cause is not clear, but doctors believe that certain factors increase the risk of developing brain cancer.

  • Age-the risk increases as you grow older but some types of brain cancer occurs only in children

  • Chemical exposure-

  • Exposure to radiation-ionizing radiations, such as radiotherapy

  • No history of chickenpox-it has been proved that people with a history of chickenpox are less prone to brain cancer

Diagnosis

Your doctor performs the physical examination and reviews your medical history. Neurological examination is performed that includes vision, hearing, balance strength, reflexes, and coordination. The doctor may suggest you to go for further tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans if brain cancer is suspected. These tests help the doctor to evaluate the tumor and plan the treatment accordingly.

In some cases, biopsy test is performed to check if the tumor is cancerous or benign.

Primary brain tumors begin when the normal cells acquire errors or mutations in their DNA. These mutations make the cells grow, divide repeatedly, and continue living when healthy cells die. This results in abnormal cell mass, forming a tumor. These tumors are less common than secondary tumors.

There are different types of primary brain tumors depending on the type of cells involved.

Gliomas Originate in the glial cells that supports the structure of the CNS and provides nutrition to CNS
Meningiomas Originates from meninges (membranes surrounding the brain)
Acoustic neuromas Develop from nerves that control balance and hearing
Pituitary adenomas Develop from pituitary gland; this tumor affects the pituitary hormones
Medulloblastomas Most common tumors in children that start in the lower back of the brain
PNETS Rare tumors that develop from fetal cells of the brain and can occur anywhere in the brain
Germ cell tumors Develop during childhood where the testicles or ovaries form, but can move to the brain
Craniopharyngiomas Rare, noncancerous tumors that start near the brain’s pituitary gland

Secondary brain tumors often occur in people with a history of cancer. The most common cancer types that spread to the brain are breast cancer colon cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma (skin cancer).

Surgery is the preferred treatment option for malignant tumors. The surgery is performed, and the whole tumor is removed only for the tumors which are small and easy to separate from the surrounding brain tissue. In other cases, part of the tumor which is safe is removed as it can also reduce the signs and symptoms.

But, you may have infection and bleeding after the surgery and in some cases, the vision may be impaired. But it is not permanent.

Radiotherapy-high energy beams such as X-rays or protons are used to kill tumor cells. Radiation is given to the whole brain if cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Do not worry if you have symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and scalp irritation, as they are temporary.

Chemotherapy-given either orally or intravenously to kill the tumors. Temozolomide is commonly prescribed drug.

Rehabilitation

This treatment is necessary as the brain tumors develop in parts of the brain that affects your motor skills, speech, vision, and thinking. Your doctor would recommend physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to regain the lost skills.

After the treatment, you may feel that you have a got little control over the health. Following these tips can improve the quality of your life:

  • Learn about your condition and become confident in decision-making.

  • Keep your family and friends close, to get emotional and physical support especially if you are still undergoing the treatment.

  • Talk your heart aloud when you wish to as it makes you feel happy and comfortable.

  • Last but not least, do not lose hope!!!Try to fight cancer and set an example for the people like you.