Most brain tumors are actually brain cancer although they are referred to as "tumours" as though they are benign. If the tumor is not cancerous, the patient tends to do better. All types of brain cells and brain tissue can form a brain cancer. You can also commonly get metastatic cancer from cancer that started in another body area. Brain cancer, whether metastatic or not, is a serious disease from which few people recover.
Brain cancers that are primary can be made from different brain cell types. The growth of these cells tends to be very aggressive and grow rapidly. They take up the nutrients and resources needed by normal brain cells and they begin to take up space, causing pressure to build up within the skull.
Common brain cancers (primary) include meningiomas, gliomas, astrocytomas, CNS lymphomas and medulloblastomas. These are named after the type of brain cell from which the tumor originates. Brain cancers are graded according to the aggressiveness of the tumor. For example:
- Grade I cancer is a benign brain tumor with slow growth and cells that appear normal under the microscope
- Grade II cancer is a malignancy that has cells that look somewhat differently from regular brain cells
- Grade III brain cancer looks markedly different from normal brain cells and are "anaplastic" under the microscope
- Grade IV brain cells are the most abnormal looking and grow extremely fast
Metastatic brain cancer doesn't look like brain cancer at all under the microscope and look like the cancer from which the tumour originated.
About 22,000 individuals get brain cancer every year. There are several probable causes of brain cancer which includes genetics, having an HIV infection, having prior radiation to the brain, cigarette smoking and possible environmental causes, including exposure to rubber chemicals, embalming fluids, and cell phones, although that has been disputed in several different studies.
Symptoms of brain cancer differ depending on the location of the tumor and how big it is. Some tumors are not big at all and are not very dangerous. Some tumors, even small ones, push on vital nerves and can affect vision, hearing or other bodily functions. Seizures are common results of brain cancers and individuals can have difficulty with speech, ambulation, upper extremity or lower extremity function and sensory problems. Brain swelling can cause headaches and difficulty in mentation.
If you have brain cancer, headache is the first symptoms you tend to get. Clumsiness of the arms or legs is common and weakness in the extremities as if you are having a stroke can be symptoms of an early or mid-sized brain cancer. Your personality can change and you can have problems walking. Memory, attention and alertness can be affected by having a brain cancer. Nausea and vomiting are also common and your intellectual capacity can suffer greatly.
Testing for cancer of the brain involves a CT scan or MRI scan of the skull which can easily define the one or more tumors found in the brain. Some brain tumors show abnormal lab tests that can be tested for. A biopsy of the tumor is then done using an open biopsy or a biopsy using a stereotactic needle biopsy. Small samplings of brain tissue are all that are needed to get a decent diagnosis.
The treatment of brain cancer is removing as much of the tumor as possible, either after or before chemotherapy or radiation. Radiation therapy is often done before and after brain cancer surgery in order to get all of the tumor removed. The prognosis depends on the location, size and grade of the tumor.