Ten Questions Answered On Brain Tumors

  1. What is a brain tumor?
    It is an abnormal mass of tissue in which some cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, unregulated by the mechanisms that control normal cells. The tumor grows and takes up space within the skull and interferes with normal brain activity. A tumor can cause damage by increasing pressure in the brain, by shifting the brain or pushing against the skull and by invading and damaging nerves and healthy brain tissue.
  2. What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?
    The most common symptoms include head aches, which can be most severe in the morning, nausea or vomiting which can be most severe in the morning, seizures, convulsions, difficulty thinking, speaking or finding words, personality changes, weakness or paralysis in one part or side of the body, loss of balance, vision changes, confusion and disorientation and memory loss. Different parts of the brain controls different functions. Symptoms will vary depending on the tumor location.
  3. What is the difference between a primary brain tumor and a secondary brain tumor?
    Primary brain tumors originate in the brain itself. Primary brain tumors do not spread from the brain to other parts of the body except in rare cases. There are two main types, glial tumors (gliomas, oligodendrogliomas,ependymomas) and non glial tumors (meningiomas).Secondary brain tumors begin as cancer in another part of the body. Some of the cancer cells may be carried to the brain by the blood or may spread from adjacent tissue. The site where the cancerous cells originated is referred to as the primary cancer. Metastatic brain tumors are often referred to as brain mets or secondaries. Secondary brain tumors are the most common brain tumors. Because people are surviving primary cancers for long periods of time, there has been an increase in secondary brain tumors.
  4. What is the difference between a benign brain tumor and a malignant brain tumor?
    Benign brain tumors are slow growing tumors that can be removed or destroyed if in an accessible location. Malignant tumors (brain cancers) are rapidly growing tumors that invade or infiltrate and destroy normal brain tissue. No one is certain why some benign tumors may change overtime to become malignant. The distinction between a benign and a malignant tumor can be ambiguous. Some benign tumors can be dangerous as malignant ones if in a dangerous or inaccessible location. Some malignant tumors can be successfully treated.
  5. Is a brain tumor cancer?
    Some brain tumors are cancers and some are not. Malignant tumors are cancers. The most common among them are brain metastases and glioblastoma multiforme. Brain cancer cells loose their normal form and structure. This is called anaplasia. The most rapidly growing tumor has the highest degree of anaplasia.
  6. What is a recurrent tumor?
    Recurrent tumors are tumors which grow back after being removed. Recurrence commonly occurs in the same area as the original area or in the adjacent area. Both benign and malignant tumors can recur. It is not possible to predict whether or not recurrence will take place, There fore regular follow up is essential with MRI scans at periodic intervals.
  7. How is a brain tumor diagnosed?
    Identifying a brain tumor involves a neurological examination, brain scans and or an analysis of the brain tissue. A neurological examination is a series of tests to measure the function of the patients nervous system and physical and mental alertness. If responses to the examination are not normal, the doctor may order a brain scan. A brain scan is a picture of the internal structure of the brain. A specialized machine takes a scan in much the same way a digital camera takes a photograph. Sometimes a contrast agent is used which helps the doctor to see the difference between normal and abnormal brain tissue. The contrast agent is injected into a vein and flown into the brain. Abnormal or diseased brain tissue absorbs more dye than normal healthy tissue.
    MRI SCAN: uses magnetic fields and computers to capture images of the brain on film. It detects signals emitted from normal and abnormal tissue providing clear images of most tumors.CT SCAN: combines sophisticated x ray and computer technology. CT image scan determine some types of tumors as well as help detect swelling, bleeding and bone and tissue calcification.

    PET SCAN: provides a picture of brain activity by measuring the rate at which a tumor absorbs glucose. The PET scan measures the brain activity and sends this information to a computer, which creates a live image. This scan is used to differentiate between scar tissue, recurring tumor and necrosis (cells destroyed by radiation treatment)

    A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from the tumor site and examined under a microscope. A biopsy is the most accurate method of obtaining a diagnosis. This biopsy can be done by open method (craniotomy). Here a piece of skull is removed in order to get access to the brain. After the tumor is removed, completely or partially, the bone is usually put back in place, A closed biopsy (stereotactic biopsy) may be performed when the tumor is in an area of the brain that is difficulty to reach. Here a small hole is drilled into the skull and a narrow needle is passed into the tumor to sample it. Once the sample is obtained, a pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope and gives a pathology report.

  8. How is a brain tumor treated?
    The standard treatments for brain tumor are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation and chemotherapy are used as secondary or adjuvant therapies for tumor where surgery alone is not enough. In rare occasions where the tumor is inoperable radiation and or chemotherapy alone can be considered. In treating brain tumors, a multi disciplinary treatment team, made of various specialists is generally considered the preferred approach. Neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and other medical professionals make up the treatment team.
  9. What will happen to a patient with a brain tumor?
    To a large extent, what happens to the patient depends on the type of tumor, its location the area of the brain involved, and the form of therapy needed to treat it. For patients and their families the brain tumor experience is a journey into an unknown land filled with uncertainty. Through the diagnosis, treatment and follow up visits there is much to learn and cope with physically, emotionally and spiritually. The more patient and the family know and understands each aspect of the brain tumor and its treatment, the lesser the uncertainty. The patients self confidence makes a tremendous difference. The most important of all is the patients outlook towards the condition. Brain tumor patients have a right to remain hopeful in the fight against their illness. Hope is a powerful coping strategy that empowers patients to look beyond the moment and into the future.
  10. How can the family and the patient cope with brain tumor?
    A family in which some one has a brain tumor is constantly challenged by changing circumstances, and yet must also strive to be caring and supportive through out the entire process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Being aware of the different ways in which illness may affect the patient and the family can help in finding the best ways to cope with these changes. People may respond in various ways. Common reactions can include physical symptoms such as fatigue, nervousness, impaired sleep or appetite, emotional reactions such as fear, shock, depression, anger, guilt, mood swings or crying. Cognitive symptoms that may include difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness and spiritual responses such as searching for meaning or any increase or decrease in spirituality. These are all normal responses to stress. Recognizing these common issues can guide everyone struggling with challenges brought about by a brain tumor diagnosis. Communication between family members about roles and responsibilities may become more difficult. How a family copes with these changes is affected by the ability to communicate. Identifying individual family members and friends who are committed to help can provide needed support to the patient and help with difficult transitions. Creating new flexible solutions to changing circumstances can also serve as a way to help cope with changing nature of illness. It is difficult to summarize a single approach to coping, because every patient, family and disease is different. Many people rely on family and friends and their spiritual community for support. Support groups including internet based groups can often provide contact with other people in a similar situation.