What You Should Know About Brain Tumors

Did you know that brain tumours are the second most common type of cancer in children in India? Read on to know more about what they are, their types, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

What is a brain tumour?

A brain tumour is an abnormal cell growth or lump in your brain. While it sounds like an extremely serious and worrisome condition, it’s important to know that not all of them are cancerous (malignant). As of now, it affects approximately 5 to 10 people out of every one lakh in India.

What is a benign and malignant tumour?

Depending on the characteristics of a tumour, they can be divided into –

  • Benign: These are slow growing and less aggressive. These have clear, well-defined margins and don’t spread to other tissues and organs. They are usually non-cancerous and carry a good outcome
  • Malignant: These are cancerous and rapidly growing with uneven margins. They can invade and spread to other tissues and organs.

What is a primary and secondary brain tumour?

Based on their origin, brain tumours can be divided into –

  • Primary tumours, which arise in the brain itself
  • Secondary tumours, which arise in a different part of the body and have spread to the brain

What are the different types of brain tumours?

Depending on the composition and characteristics of the abnormal cells, primary tumours include –

  • Meningioma
  • Glioma
  • Glioblastoma
  • Schwannoma
  • Astrocytoma
  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma
  • Pituitary tumours
37. Brain Tumor

What kind of cancer spreads to the brain?

Some advanced-stage cancers that can spread to the brain (called ‘brain metastases’) are –

  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Renal cancer
  • Melanoma

Are there different stages of brain tumours?

Depending upon the severity and rate of growth, the tumour can be divided into 4 stages –

  • Stage I– It is localised, benign and slow-growing and does not spread to surrounding areas
  • Stage II– It is malignant but slow-growing
  • Stage III– It is malignant and growing rapidly
  • Stage IV– It is malignant, actively growing and can rapidly spread to other areas as well

What are the risk factors for brain tumours?

While the exact cause is still unknown, certain factors may increase your risk. These include –

  • You’ve had radiation therapy in the past for either a brain tumour or some other type of cancer
  • Someone in your family is suffering from the same condition
  • You have a genetic condition associated with an increased risk of brain tumours such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis, von Hippel Lindau disease, Turcot syndrome etc.
  • You’ve had constant exposure to certain chemicals such as solvents, vinyl chloride, rubber, N-nitroso compounds etc.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?

While there are many different kinds of brain tumours, they all exhibit some common symptoms and signs depending on their location and size –

  • If it is located in the cerebrum (front part of the brain), you can experience –
    – Seizures
    – Confusion or drowsiness
    – Personality or behaviour changes
    – Vision changes, such as blurred vision, tunnel vision etc.
    – Slurred speech
    – Weakness or paralysis of one half of the body or face
  • If it is located in the brainstem (middle part of the brain), you can experience –
    – Seizures
    – Hormonal imbalance
    – Vision changes, such as blurred vision, tunnel vision etc.
    – Headache
     – Weakness or paralysis of one half of the body or face
    – Problems with breathing
  • If it is located in the cerebellum (back part of the brain), you can experience –
     – Nausea
    – Vomiting (usually in the morning)
    – Headaches
    – Difficulty walking or altered gait
    – Loss of coordination and balance

How is a brain tumour diagnosed?

Your doctor will take a detailed history and perform a physical examination, including a thorough neurological assessment. Your neurological assessment involves evaluation of your cognitive functions, such as memory, concentration, attention, problem-solving etc., your reflexes, your muscle strength, your balance and coordination and your vision, to name a few.

They can additionally recommend you to get –

  • Imaging tests such as an MRI, CT or PET scan to know about the size, location and spread of the tumour and also if it is compressing any nearby structures
  • Tissue biopsy for a histopathology examination to understand its characteristics
  • Additional tests such as a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) or an angiogram to visualise the blood supply

How is a brain tumour treated?

  • Surgery: Surgery is the mode of choice in cases where the tumour is small, easily operable and closed off from other structures
  • Chemotherapy: You will be given anti-cancer drugs which specifically target the cancer cells and leave the surrounding normal tissues relatively unaffected
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy can be external, where X-rays or protons are delivered to the affected region using a machine, or internal (brachytherapy) where a radioactive substance is implanted near the tumour

Are there any side effects to treatment?

While chemotherapy and radiation mainly focus on the cancer cells and try to leave the normal cells as unaffected as possible, they can cause –

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mouth sores
  • Hairfall
  • Infections
  • Generalised fatigue or weakness
  • Electrolyte imbalances (Tumour lysis syndrome)

What special precautions should be observed while undergoing treatment?

  • Follow the doctor’s instructions about medicines and appointments
  • Seek support: It is normal to feel depressed, afraid or anxious during the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Talk to your family members or close friends for help and support
  • Rest well, because radiation exposure can make you feel weak

Are there any dietary changes I need to make after chemotherapy?

After your chemo session, try to eat fibre-rich, nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cereals, well-cooked and lean meat, whole fats, and eggs. Avoid eating raw or undercooked seafood, red meat, unpasteurized dairy products, raw sprouts, and leftover food.

Are there any signs I need to watch out for post-treatment?

Regularly visit your doctor as scheduled post your treatment. If you suffer any of the following symptoms, call your doctor right away. –

  • Fever or any other signs of infection
  • Any new symptoms
  • Any symptoms affecting your daily routine
  • Symptoms that seem to be getting worse
Dr. Sosa

Dr. Sosa

An oral physician turned medical writer who writes profoundly about medicine and diseases. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

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