Brain cancer is a result of cancerous cell growth in the brain. The cancer cells form tumours that can be slow or fast growing depending on the type of the tumours. Primary brain cancer is an overgrowth of cells in the brain that form masses called tumours. This cancer is different from cancers which start in another part of the body and spread to the brain. When this happens, it is called secondary or metastasized brain cancer.
Brain tumours are named based on where they are located in your brain or upper spine. Tumours are also given a grade, which tells you how fast it is expected to grow. The grades go from 1 to 4, with grade 1 growing the slowest and grade 4 growing the fastest.
Some of the most common types of brain tumours include:
The symptoms of brain cancer largely depend on the size and location of the tumour. The most common symptoms of brain cancer include the following:
- Headache (that becomes worse in the morning)
- A lack of coordination
- A lack of balance
- Difficulty walking
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty thinking
- Speech problems
- Vision problems
- Personality changes
- Abnormal eye movements
- Muscle jerking and twitching
- Unexplained passing out or syncope
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
The prognosis for brain cancer is greatly improved by early detection. If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms with regularity or think the symptoms might be more significant, consult a doctor immediately for an evaluation.
The exact cause of primary brain cancer is not clear. However, studies have shown a link between exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation and an increased risk of brain cancer.
Medical imaging tests such as CT scans, X-rays, and radiation therapy treatments are the most common sources of ionizing radiation. Other risk factors that might be associated with brain cancer, are:
- Older age
- A family history of brain cancer
- Long-term smoking
- Exposure to fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides
- Working with elements that can cause cancer, like head, plastic, rubber, petroleum and textiles
- Having an Epstein-Barr virus infection or mononucleosis.
Secondary brain cancer is more likely to be caused by some types of cancer than others. Cancers that commonly spread or metastasize to the brain include:
- Lung cancer
- Breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Melanoma (a type of skin cancer)
There are several treatment options for brain cancer. Treatment for primary brain cancer will be different from treatment for cancers that have been metastasized from other sites. The doctor may use one or more treatments depending on the type, size and location of the brain tumour.
The treatments for brain cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Combination therapy
- Biologic drugs
- Other medications
- Clinical trials
- Alternative therapies
During the treatment of brain cancer, the doctor removes the tumour and then destroys any remaining cancer cells. Advancements in the treatments are improving brain cancer survival rates, especially in slow-growing tumours.