Brain cancer is cancer in one of its most serious forms. It’s commonly believed all brain tumors are cancerous, but this isn’t always the case. Malignant tumors, unlike benign tumors, will grow and spread in an aggressive manner as healthy cells are quickly overpowered. In the United States, brain tumors affect roughly one in every 5,000 individuals with roughly 16,700 deaths every year.
Metastatic brain tumors consist of cancer cells from a tumor located in another part of the body. These cells have spread to the brain from another area, which is known as metastasis. Approximately 25 percent of tumors in other parts of the body will metastasize to the brain.
Risk Factors and Causes
Much like other types of cancer, the causes of cancer in the brain are relatively unknown. That being said, there are some factors that have been linked to brain cancer. These include: exposure to radiation, cigarette smoke, and environmental toxins. While it is hard to say if the following factors actually increase the risk of developing a brain tumor, many believe radiation to the head region, HIV infection, or other certain inherited conditions are responsible for tumors developing in the brain. Overall, the risk of developing brain cancer is very low, most have only a 1% chance over their entire lifetime.
It can be difficult to diagnose brain cancer due to the fact many symptoms are shared with other ailments and diseases. Additionally, not all brain tumors cause symptoms. In many cases, it is not until the cancer has moved to an advanced stage that symptoms come about.
The most common symptoms associated with brain cancer include:
- Difficulty walking
There are other symptoms that are not as common. Nausea and vomiting have been reported, as well as altered mental status, such as the inability to concentrate, difficulty with speech, vision problems, and change in emotional capacity. Noticeably, these symptoms are associated with other ailments. It’s important to seek immediate medical condition if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Pattern of headaches (not typically common until a later stages of the disease)
- Double vision or blurred vision, especially if only on one side
- Persistent vomiting
- Increased sleepiness
If your doctor believes that you may have a brain tumor, there are several tests that can be ordered to determine if this is the case. In most cases, the first test is a CT scan of the brain. This test is similar to an X-ray, but shows more detail. To ensure that any trouble areas are pinpointed, dye is injected into your bloodstream. This allows abnormalities to be highlighted during the scan.
Other tests may be performed as brain cancer often times brings about other medical concerns. Blood analysis, liver function tests, and urine test will help diagnose or rule out other problems. In some cases, an MRI scan may be used instead of a CT scan. This is because an MRI is known to better detect the presence or any changes within a tumor.
Brain cancer is given a grade of 1-4. Grading is different than staging other cancers. Cancers in other areas, such as the lungs and breast, are staged based on location, size, and possible metastasis. Brain tumors are graded based on how aggressive the cells appear when examined under a microscope. Just the same as traditional staging, as you move from one grade to the next the seriousness increases.
The grading scale helps determine brain cancer prognosis. Along with this, there are other factors that go into this including: age of patient, extent of tumor residual, tumor location, functional neurologic status, and biogenetic markers. Surgery to remove the tumor is common, as well as radiation and chemotherapy.
The best way to improve long term prognosis is to treat the cancer as soon as possible. This is done through surgery and/or radiation therapy. If the cancer has moved to an advanced stage, doctors often times turn to their attention to helping the patient deal with the symptoms in the most comfortable manner possible.
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