The formation of abnormal cells inside the brain often result in a brain tumor. Brain tumors are of two types: benign tumors and malignant/cancerous tumors. This means that all brain tumors are not cancerous but only the malignant type.
Malignant tumors are further divided by primary tumors which form inside the brain and secondary tumors which originate from elsewhere inside the body. The latter type is also termed as brain metastasis tumors.
A risk factor is anything which may increase the possibility of developing a tumor in one’s brain. While risk factors have a part to play in developing it, most of them do not really cause it. People with several risk factors may never develop a brain tumor while those with none may do.
Some of the common risk factors are:
- Age: Though brain tumors are common in older adults and children, anybody may develop them at any age.
- Gender: Males are more likely to develop brain cancer than females; though certain types of it, for instance meningioma, are common only in women.
- Exposures: The risk of developing brain tumors increases when exposed to pesticides, solvents, rubber, vinyl chloride and oil products.
- Family History: About 5% of brain tumors may occur due to hereditary factors, such as neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
- Seizures and head injury: Serious head trauma often result in the development of brain tumors.
The symptoms of brain tumors vary depending on the type of tumor and its size, location and growth rate. The usual symptoms include:
- Severe headaches
- Sensory changes
- Memory changes
- Vision changes
- Difficulty in sleeping
Doctors follow a lot of test procedures to diagnose a brain tumor and its type. They also do tests to identify whether or not the tumor has spread to a different part of the body, which is known as metastasis.
The following things are considered by doctors to decide on the type of the diagnostic test:
- The patient’s signs and symptoms
- The patient’s age and health condition
- The type of the tumor suspected
Doctors do different types of tests depending on the aforementioned factors. Some of these include:
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): It is used to have a detailed image of the body and measure the size of the tumor. If a tumor is detected, tissue of the tumor is collected through surgery or biopsy in order to identify its type.
- CT scan: Unlike MRI which uses magnetic field, CT scan provides a 3D picture of the body through X-rays. It helps identify bleeding inside the brain and changes to bone inside the skull.
- Lumbar puncture: In this procedure, doctors take a sample of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) through a needle to identify tumor cells or biomarkers. Biomarkers are substances present in the urine, spinal fluid, or other fluids of people with a certain type of cancer.
- Vision, neurological and hearing tests: These test are done to determine whether or not the tumor is affecting the functioning of the brain.
Upon diagnosing a brain tumor, a medical team is formed to determine the possible treatment options. There are some treatment options available to get rid of it, including:
- Surgery: It involves resecting the tumor either partially or completely
- Chemotherapy: Drugs are administered here to do away with tumor cells, though they may result in side effects
- Radiotherapy: This is the most usual treatment option where the tumor is destroyed with gamma rays or x-rays
Finally, brain cancer should be treated immediately upon the diagnosis in order to avoid any long-term physical disabilities and even death.