Brain Tumor Basics
A tumor is an abnormal growth in the tissues of the body, which occurs when the cells of the body divide at a rate that is excessive. The rapid cell division interrupts the natural balance of new cell production and cell death, resulting in a tumor. Tumors are not always cancerous, or malignant. Tumors are often benign, meaning that the tumor is not cancerous.
The tissue inside of the skull can be affected by tumors in the same way that any other are of the body can be, resulting in a brain tumor that may be malignant or benign. Different areas of the brain can be affected, and therefore, brain tumors may present with different symptoms in different people.
Abnormal cell growth can occur due to a number of factors, including environmental factors and exposure to toxins, nutritional factors, such as excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, genetic conditions, viruses, problems with the immune system, smoking and radiation. As there are numerous potential causes and contributing factors, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific cause of a particular tumor.
Though each form of cancer has different symptoms, there are general symptoms that are commonly experienced when one has a tumor. These include fatigue, nausea, chills, fever and night sweats. Many also experience a loss of appetite and weight loss. It is important to note that even a benign tumor may cause symptoms if it is obstructing the proper functioning of a part of the brain.
Types of brain cancer
Brain tumors may begin elsewhere in the body, metastasizing, or spreading eventually to the brain. This is the most common form of brain tumor in the adult population, known as a metastic tumor. In this case, the cancer is transported through the blood from another area of the body, often the colon, breast, lung or skin. If a tumor has spread from another area of the body it is by default considered malignant, or cancerous.
Malignant brain tumors are one of the more common forms of cancer found in children, following leukemia and lymphoma. Tumors that originate in the brain are named after the area in which the tumor originates, such as the pineal gland or tentorium cerebelli. A common form of childhood brain tumor, occurring in approximately 10 percent of all brain tumor cases in children, is ependymoma. This is a type of tumor that occurs out of abnormalities in the cells that line cavities within the brain.
The symptoms experienced due to a brain tumor will differ greatly depending on the location of the tumor, and the part of the brain affected. For example, tumors like cerebral astrocytomas that occur in the cerebrum, the center responsible for mental processes.
Symptoms may include headaches, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness and fatigue, irritability or changes in personality, depressed mood and a decrease in cardiovascular functioning. Other symptoms include impairments in vision, paralysis, confusion, seizures, endocrine disorders, or staggered gait.
If an individual presents symptoms of a brain tumor, a doctor may request further testing, such as a spinal tap, computed tomographys scan (CT or CAT scan), neurological examination, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scans or x-rays. A doctor may also order an arteriogram, which is an x-ray of the arteries and veins, or a myelogram, where dye is injected into the spinal cord to improve x-ray clarity.
Treatment options for a brain tumor will depend on the size and location of the tumor, the growth rate of the tumor and the overall health, age and expectations of the individual, among other factors. Surgery to remove the tumor is sometimes utilized, provided the tumor is accessible and the benefits of surgery outweigh the costs. For example, surgery may not be preferable for an individual if there is a high likelihood of significant brain damage and the tumor is growing at a slow rate, given that there is the risk of irreversible injury to the brain. In such cases, radiation therapy, or the use of high-energy rays, or the use drugs to kill cancer cells, as well as chemotherapy would be an alternate option.
University of Maryland Medical Center: Tumor
University of Maryland Medical Center: Cancer Overviews