Brain tumor symptoms will depend on the type of tumor as well as its location, progression, and many other determinant factors. There are two types of brain tumors – benign tumors and malignant tumors.
Benign tumors are abnormal and often invasive growths of tissue in the brain. They are not cancerous. The dangers in these benign tumors lie in their size and their rate of growth in the brain. They may become too large and cause mental symptoms such as dementia.
These benign tumors may occur in the cells of the membrane covering the brain (meningioma), the bones of the skull (osteoma), the nerve cells of the spinal column (chordoma), the support cells of the brain (glioma), the Schwann cells that wrap around nerves (Schwannomas), the pituitary cells (pituitary adenoma), and other types. One of the most common is meningioma and this type of tumor may recur after removal. Meningiomas occur more often in women and typically appear between the ages of 40 and 60.
Malignant tumors are either tumors that have originated in the brain or those that have spread or metastasized through the bloodstream from other cancers elsewhere in the body. The primary cancers may be cancers of the breast, of the lung, leukemia, lymphona and melanoma.
These cancers can all spread to the brain and grow in one or several areas of the brain. Malignant tumors which originate in the brain often originate in the tissues of the nerve cells and are known are gliomas. Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common type.
The symptoms of brain tumors are varied and are caused by the build up of pressure on the brain. These symptoms are present whether or not the tumor is benign or malignant and depend to a large extent on the rate of growth and size of the tumor, as well as its location in the brain.
Brain Tumor symptoms:
- headaches, frequent, severe or constant headaches occurring at night and still present in the morning when waking
- paralysis or weakness in an arm or leg or one side of the body
- inability to feel heat or cold, pressure and sharp objects on a limb
- lack of balance, coordination, dizziness and double vision
- changes in hearing, sense of smell, and difficulty with vision, bulging eyes
- personality changes due to pressure build up on certain parts of the brain
- confusion, inability to think properly
- drowsiness and sleepiness, even leading to coma
- memory loss often manifested as Alzheimer’s symptoms
- seizures, common in both benign and primary brain tumors
- extreme height or enlargement of the head, face, hands and feet (condition known as gigantism) are symptomatic in pituitary gland tumors (pituitary adenoma)
Abnormal brain function is often diagnosed by a physician during a physical examination. A doctor may suspect a brain tumor with the presence/combination of the above symptoms.
Specific procedures are necessary to make the diagnosis including, computed tomography scans (CT scans), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans). These scans also measure the exact position and size of the tumor. Blood tests are also used to show abnormal levels of pituitary hormones in the blood. If possible, a biopsy of the tumor is often removed and examined to see whether the tumor is malignant. Sometimes a spinal tap is performed to examine the cerebrospinal fluid and look for cancer cells.
When biopsy/surgery is not possible because of the location of the tumor, a biopsy may be performed with 3D needle placement, using special imaging devices to guide the placement of the needle. When located, cells are then drawn into the needle and examined.
It is imperative to remove brain tumors when they are causing impaired brain function or pressure on the brain. Failure to do so may result in a patient’s death. Many brain tumors can be removed successfully with no brain damage. Tumors which are located deep in the brain are more difficult to treat because surgery can lead to some paralysis and mental degradation.
In some cases radiation therapy is also needed after surgery to destroy or shrink any other small tumor cells. Chemotherapy is often used successfully to treat some forms of brain cancers especially metastatic and primary cancers.