Brain Cancer

Overview

Cancers of the brain cancer are the result of abnormal growths of cells in the brain. A brain tumor occurs as a mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain.

Several types of brain tumors exist, some of which are cancerous (Malignant) while others are noncancerous (benign). Brain tumors can start in the brain (primary brain tumors) or may begin in other parts of the body and spread to your brain (Secondary or metastatic brain tumors).

Brain tumors are graded 1-4 by their behavior, such as the speed of growth and how likely they are to spread. The grades are then classified into a low grade (1-2) and high grade (3-4) where low-grade tumors are defined as noncancerous while the high grade is cancerous tumors. 

Types of Brain Cancers

  • Astrocytoma
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Brain metastases
  • Ependymoma
  • Choroid plexus carcinoma
  • Glioma
  • Embryonal tumors
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Meningioma
  • Pediatric brain tumors
  • Glioblastoma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Pineoblastoma
  • `Pituitary tumors

Symptoms

Not all brain tumors cause symptoms, and certain tumors such as the tumors of the pituitary gland are not often found unless an MRI or CT Scan is used for another reason.

There are several symptoms of brain cancer, but not all of them are specific to brain tumors. This means that they can be caused by other illnesses. The symptoms of primary and metastatic brain cancers are the same.

The most common symptoms of brain cancer include:

Other nonspecific symptoms associated with brain cancers include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Altered mental status – changes in memory, concentration, alertness, or attention
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Abnormalities in vision
  • Gradual changes in intellectual capacity or emotional response

In several individuals, the onset of these symptoms is gradual and may go unrecognized by both the person and the family. In a few instances, however, these symptoms appear more swiftly.

In certain instances, the individual acts as though he or she is developing a stroke.

Causes of Brain Cancers

Primary brain tumors often begin in the brain itself or in tissues close to the brain such as cranial nerves, brain-covering membranes (meninges), pituitary gland, or pineal gland.

Primary brain tumors normally start when normal cells obtain errors (mutations) in their DNA. These forms of mutations permit cells to grow and multiply at alarming rates and to continue to live when normal cells die — the outcome of abnormal cells which forms a tumor. 

Several varying types of primary brain tumors exist. Each gets its name from the type of cells involved. Examples include:

  • Meningiomas: A meningioma is a tumor that originates from the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges).
  • Gliomas: They begin in the brain or spinal cord and include ependymomas, astrocytomas, glioblastomas, oligodendrogliomas, and oligoastrocytomas.
  • Acoustic neuromas (schwannomas): benign tumors that develop on the nerves that control hearing and balance that leads from the inner ear to the brain.
  • Medulloblastomas: Are the most common cancerous brain tumors that occur in children. They start in the lower back of the brain and spread through the spinal fluid. They are not common in adults but can still occur.
  • Pituitary adenomas: They are benign tumors that develop in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. They can affect the pituitary hormones and interfere with the functionality of the entire body.
  • Craniopharyngiomas: They are noncancerous tumors that begin close to the pituitary gland of the brain, which secretes hormones associated with controlling functionality of the body. As these tumors slowly grow, they affect these gland and other structures near the brain.
  • Germ cell tumors: They develop during childhood where the ovaries or testicles will form.  Sometimes they affect other parts of the body, including the brain.

Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors result from cancer that begins elsewhere in the body and then spreads (Metastasizes) to the brain. These tumors mostly occur in individuals who have a history of cancer.

But in rare cases, a metastatic brain tumor may be the initial symptoms of cancer that start elsewhere in the body. Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the common ones are:

  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Melanoma

Risk Factors

  • Exposure to radiation especially ionizing radiation such as radiation therapy and radiation caused by atomic bombs
  • Family history of brain tumors: Family history of genetic syndromes increases the risk of brain tumors.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and history of brain cancer. He or she will then proceed to conduct additional tests to determine whether brain cancer exists or not.

These tests include:

  • CT Scan of the brain – preferred if the person is seen emergently
  • MRI Scan – Helps to evaluate the nature and extent of a brain tumor to determine the type of cancer.
  • A Biopsy Test: Small sample of the tumor is taken to identify the type of tumor and its grade.

Grades

Unlike other types of cancers that are often staged, brain cancer is graded. The main grades include:

  • Grade I: The tissue is benign. The cells appear like normal brain cells, and cell growth is slow.
  • Grade II: The tissue is malignant. The cells look less like normal cells than do the cells in a grade I tumor.
  • Grade III: the malignant tissue has cells that appear abnormal compared to normal cells. These cells grow actively and multiply quickly. These cells are called anaplastic.
  • Grade IV: The malignant tissue has cells that appear highly abnormal and often grow very fast and in an aggressive manner.

Treatment

Treatment of brain cancer differs depending on factors such as a person’s general health, age, size of the tumor, location, and type of cancer.

The most widely used treatments for brain cancers are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In certain cases, a combination of the two methods is used.

  • Brain cancer surgery: is the most common treatment where the tumor is removed – mostly the benign tumors.
  • Radiation therapy: Targeted doses of radiation aim to kill the cancerous cells in the throat
  • Chemotherapy: Infusions of drugs target and kill cancer cells in the throat.

For more information on diagnosis and/or treatment, speak to a doctor, or get access to a hospital near you through the Uzima Health App.