Brain Tumour

What are brain tumours?

Brain tumours are masses of abnormal cells that grow within the skull. A brain tumour diagnosis can be scary, but not to worry, not all of them are cancerous. They can be benign (non-cancerous), or malignant (cancerous).

In fact, meningioma, which is often benign and might not need surgery, is the most common kind of brain tumour, accounting for 30% of them [1].

There are different kinds of malignant brain tumours:

Primary brain tumours develop within the brain itself.

  • They can develop from your brain cells, the membranes around your brain (meninges), nerve cells and glands.
  • Examples of primary brain tumours are meningiomas, pituitary tumours and schwannomas.

Secondary brain tumours have spread to the brain from cancers in other parts of the body.

  • The most common types of cancers that bring about secondary tumours are lung cancer, breast cancer, malignant melanoma, kidney cancer and colon cancer.

The rate at which a brain tumour grows can vary, affecting how your nervous system will function. Non-cancerous tumours tend to remain in one place and not spread, and if removed completely, usually do not grow back.

How will having a brain tumour affect me?

Brain tumours can affect your body differently, depending on which part of the brain they are located in and their size. They might interfere with your cognitive functions (e.g. remembering things, speech and ability to understand language) and cause personality changes, or cause pain in your head throughout the day. These symptoms pose great obstacles to your everyday life, thus it is important that brain tumours are diagnosed early and dealt with properly.

What does having a brain tumour feel like?

Patients with brain tumours will experience one or more of the following symptoms:

Persistent headaches

Seizures

Feeling sick and drowsiness; weakness

Paralysis 

Vision and speech problems

Dizziness and difficulty with balance

Confusion 

Nausea and vomiting

What are the causes and risk factors of brain tumours?

The main cause of most brain tumours is unknown or difficult to pinpoint, but there are some risk factors.

Age.The risk of brain tumours increases with age, and most happen in elderly aged 85 to 89 [2], and some kinds of brain tumours are more common in children.

Exposure to radiation makes developing a brain tumour more likely. This includes radiotherapy, CT scans, and X-rays. However, so far, there is no documented evidence that the use of mobile phones and microwave ovens can cause brain tumours.

Family history and genetic conditions can increase your chances of getting a brain tumour. These conditions include Tuberculosis Sclerosis, Neurofibromatosis type 1 and 2, and Turner Syndrome.

Gender. Men are at a higher risk of developing brain tumours [2].

How are brain tumours diagnosed?

So, what happens if you think you have a brain tumour? Tumours may or may not be symptomatic, and some turn up incidentally on scans when screening for other conditions. 

You should ideally visit a doctor if you have the symptoms of a brain tumour. Though it might be unlikely that you actually have one, your doctor will be able to examine you and assess your symptoms, and refer you to a neurologist if necessary.

CT scans may be performed in order to see structures like blood vessels more clearly in your head. MRI scans may be done (a scan without radiation used), to produce much more detailed images of tumours.

A cranial angiogram might also be done in order to view the blood flow to the tumour.

How can brain tumours be treated?

If you happen to have a brain tumour, the way it is treated depends on a few factors, like how big it is and where it’s located, the type of tumour it is, and your overall health. 

Steroids may be recommended by your doctor, in order to reduce the swelling in the brain. Other prescription medicines can also provide relief, such as anti-epileptic medicines that help with seizures, and normal painkillers. However, please never self-medicate and always consult a doctor regarding which medicines are the most suitable for you.

Targeted drug therapy might also be used to target certain areas of the tumour and blocking the growth of cells.

Surgery can be used to remove brain tumours, to remove as much abnormal tissue as possible. Usually, benign tumours will not grow back once they’re removed, but in some cases, they do and might become cancerous. If all of the tumour cannot be removed in surgery, other treatments like chemotherapy may be used to destroy the remaining cells.

Living with Brain Tumours

If you eventually happen to be diagnosed with a brain tumour, it’s not the end of the world, even if it is cancerous. It is possible to eventually return to your daily activities. Generally, 15% of people with a cancerous brain tumour can survive for 10 years or longer after being diagnosed. It might help you to use this time to talk to your doctors, family and friends and find the support you need to get through this.

Sources

  1. Benign brain tumour (non-cancerous). (2017, October 20). Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/benign-brain-tumour/
  2. Brain Tumor Treatment. (2019). Ucsfhealth.org. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/brain-tumor/treatment
  3. Brain Tumor: Types, Risk Factors, and Symptoms. (2012, July 16). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-tumor#:~:text=A%20brain%20tumor%20is%20a
  4. Brain Tumour | Brain & Nerves (Neurology) | Mount Elizabeth Hospitals. (n.d.). Mount Elizabeth Hospital Singapore. Retrieved December 3, 2020, from https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/specialties/medical-specialties/brains-nerves/brain-tumour
  5. NHS Choices. (2019). Brain tumours. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/brain-tumours/
  6. Primary and secondary brain tumours | Cancer Research UK. (n.d.). Cancer Research UK Retrieved December 3, 2020, from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/brain-tumours/types/primary-secondary-tumours
  7. The Most Common Brain Tumor: 5 Things You Should Know. (2019). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-most-common-brain-tumor-5-things-you-should-know