Brain tumor care
Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. Generally more serious and often life threatening, they're likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the surrounding healthy brain tissue. Very rarely, cancer cells can break away from a malignant brain tumor and spread to other parts of the brain, the spinal cord or other parts of the body.
Sometimes, a malignant tumor does not extend into healthy tissue. The tumor might be contained within a layer of tissue. Or, the bones of the skull or another structure in the head might confine it. This is an encapsulated tumor.
Tumors can be classified into four categories:
- Gliomas: These tumors occur in the glial cells, which help support and protect critical areas of the brain. Gliomas are the most common type in adults, responsible for approximately 42 percent of all adult brain tumors.
- Meningiomas: These tumors affect the meninges, the tissue that forms the protective outer covering of the brain and spine. One-quarter of all brain and spinal tumors are meningiomas, and up to 85 percent are benign. Meningiomas can occur at any age, but the incidence increases significantly in those over 65. Women are twice as likely as men to have meningiomas. They generally grow very slowly and often don't produce any symptoms.
- Acoustic neuroma/schwannomas: Schwann cells are found in the sheath that covers nerve cells. Vestibular schwannomas, also known as acoustic neuromas, arise from the eighth cranial nerve, which is responsible for hearing. Specific symptoms of vestibular schwannoma include buzzing or ringing in the ears, one-sided hearing loss and/or balance problems. Schwannomas are typically benign and respond well to surgery.
- Medulloblastoma: This a common brain tumor in children, usually diagnosed before 10 years of age. Medulloblastoma occurs in the cerebellum, which has a crucial role in coordinating muscular movements. Tumors grow quickly and can invade neighboring portions of the brain, as well as spreading outside the central nervous system. Medulloblastoma is slightly more common in boys.
Brain tumor grading
Doctors group brain tumors by grade — from low grade (grade I) to high grade (grade IV). The grade of a tumor refers to the way the cells look under a microscope. Cells from high-grade tumors look more abnormal and generally grow faster than cells from low-grade tumors.
Brain tumor risk factors
Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop a brain tumor. Risk factors associated with an increased chance of developing a primary brain tumor include:
- Sex: In general, brain tumors are more common in males than females.
- Race: Brain tumors occur more often among whites than among people of other races.
- Age: Most brain tumors are detected in people 70 or older. However, brain tumors are the second most common cancer in children. Brain tumors are more common in children younger than 8 than in older children.
- Family history: People with family members who have gliomas might be more likely to develop this disease.
Symptoms of brain tumors
Symptoms depend on tumor size, type and location. Brain tumor symptoms might be caused when a tumor presses on a nerve or damages a certain area of the brain. They also might be caused when the brain swells or fluid builds up within the skull. The most common symptoms of brain tumors include:
- Headaches (usually worse in the morning)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Changes in speech, vision or hearing
- Problems balancing or walking
- Changes in mood, personality or ability to concentrate
- Problems with memory
- Muscle jerking or twitching
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
These symptoms are not sure signs of a brain tumor. Other conditions also can cause these problems. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, see a doctor as quickly as possible.
Brain tumor treatment options
Depending on the type of brain tumor you have, your neurosurgeon and other specialists may recommend treatment options that include:
- Surgical resection: A procedure that removes part of an organ or gland. It can also be used to remove a tumor and normal tissue around it.
- Stereotactic radiation: A type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely deliver radiation to a tumor. The total dose of radiation is divided into several smaller doses given over several days. Stereotactic radiation therapy is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders. It also is being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer, such as lung cancer.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: Treats brain disorders with precise delivery of a single, high dose of radiation in a one-day session. Through the use of three-dimensional, computer-aided planning and a high degree of immobilization of the patient, the treatment can minimize the amount of radiation that passes through healthy brain tissue. Focused radiation beams are delivered to a specific area of the brain to treat abnormalities, tumors or functional disorders.
- Chemotherapy: A general term for any treatment involving the use of drugs to stop cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity or taken orally in the form of a pill, depending on which drug is used. Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells. The downside is that it does not differentiate between a cancer cell and some healthy cells. In turn, this treatment affects not only the fast-growing cancer cells but also other fast-growing cells in your body, including hair and blood cells.
- Clinical trials: Through a clinical trial, you may have access to groundbreaking treatment options before they’re approved by the FDA and made available to the public. The HonorHealth Research Institute conducts a variety of trials for various health conditions. Learn more about clinical trials.