A brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in your brain.
Many different types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are noncancerous (benign), and some brain tumors are cancerous (malignant). Brain tumors can begin in your brain (primary brain tumors), or cancer can begin in other parts of your body and spread to your brain (secondary, or metastatic brain tumors).
Brain tumor treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor you have, as well its size and location.
As a brain tumor grows, it can increase pressure inside the skull. Brain tissue surrounding the tumor may become inflamed and swell, further increasing pressure. The tumor can also distort delicate ...
The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary greatly and depend on the brain tumor's size, location and rate of growth.
General signs and symptoms caused by brain tumors may include:
When to see a doctor
Brain tumors that begin in the brain
Primary brain tumors are much less common than are secondary brain tumors, in which cancer begins elsewhere and spreads to the brain. Many different types of primary brain tumors exist. Each gets its name from the type of cells involved. Examples include:
Cancer that begins elsewhere and spreads to the brain
Secondary brain tumors are far more common than are primary brain tumors. Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the most common types include:
This computerized tomography (CT) scan of a person's head shows a meningioma. This meningioma has grown large enough to push down into the brain tissue....
An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that develops on the balance and hearing nerves leading from your inner ear to your brain. These nerves are twined together to form the vestibulocochlear nerve (...
Though doctors aren't sure what causes the genetic mutations that can lead to primary brain tumors, they've identified factors that may increase your risk of a brain tumor. Risk factors include:
A brain tumor can cause complications depending on the part of your brain that's affected. Complications can include:
Preparing for your appointment
See your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you're diagnosed with a brain tumor, you may be referred to specialists, such as:
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For a brain tumor, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time that you don't understand something.
Tests and diagnosis
If it's suspected that you have a brain tumor, your doctor may recommend a number of tests and procedures, including:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, size and location of the tumor, as well as your overall health and your preferences. Your doctor can tailor treatment to fit your particular situation.
Surgery to remove a brain tumor carries risks, such as infection and bleeding. Other risks may depend on the part of your brain where your tumor is located. For instance, surgery on a tumor near nerves that connect to your eyes may carry a risk of vision loss.
External beam radiation can focus just on the area of your brain where the tumor is located, or it can be applied to your entire brain (whole brain radiation). Whole brain radiation is sometimes used after surgery to kill tumor cells that might have been left behind.
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type and dose of radiation you receive. In general it can cause fatigue, headaches and scalp irritation.
Radiosurgery is typically done in one treatment, and in most cases you can go home the same day. Side effects may include fatigue, headache and nausea.
Another type of chemotherapy can be placed during surgery. When removing all or part of the brain tumor, your surgeon may place one or more disk-shaped wafers in the space left by the tumor. These wafers slowly release a chemotherapy drug over the next several days.
Chemotherapy side effects depend on the type and dose of drugs you receive. Systemic chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting and hair loss.
Targeted drug therapy
One targeted drug therapy used to treat brain tumors is bevacizumab (Avastin). This drug, given through a vein (intravenously), stops the formation of new blood vessels, cutting off blood supply to a tumor and killing the tumor cells.
Rehabilitation after treatment
Very little research has been done on complementary and alternative brain tumor treatments. No alternative treatments have been proved to cure brain tumors. However, they may help you cope with the side effects of your brain tumor and its treatment. Talk to your doctor about your options.
Some complementary and alternative treatments that may help you cope include:
Coping and support
A diagnosis of a brain tumor can be overwhelming and frightening. It can make you feel like you have little control over your health. But you can take steps to cope with the shock and grief that may come after your diagnosis. Consider trying to:
Last Updated: 2010-05-15
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