Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that take over neighboring cells and tissues and, at later stages, also spread to organs. When such cells start at the brain and/or spinal cord, they cause brain cancer. Both benign and malignant tumors cause signs and symptoms and need treatment. Benign brain and spinal cord tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain but rarely spread into other parts of the brain. Malignant brain and spinal cord tumors are likely to grow quickly and spread into other parts of the brain.
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The signs and symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors depend on a number of factors:
- Location of tumour
- rate of growth
- age of the patient
Some symptoms may appear gradually, others suddenly (like seizures).
Tumors in any part of the brain may cause the pressure inside the skull (known as intracranial pressure) to rise. This can be caused by growth of the tumor itself, swelling in the brain, or blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Increased pressure can lead to general symptoms such as:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Personality or behavior changes
- Drowsiness or even coma
Symptoms of tumors in different parts of the central nervous system
- Tumours in Cerebrum: cause weakness or numbness of part of the body, often on just one side.
- Tumors in or near the parts of the cerebrum: cause problems with speech or even understanding words.
- Tumors in the front part of the cerebrum: affect thinking, personality, and language.
- Tumors in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia: cause abnormal movements and an abnormal positioning of the body.
- Tumor in the cerebellum: cause trouble with walking or other everyday functions, even eating.
- Tumors in the back part of the cerebrum: cause vision problems.
- Tumors in or near other cranial nerves: may cause loss of hearing, balance problems, weakness of some facial muscles, or trouble swallowing.
- Spinal cord tumors: numbness, weakness, or lack of coordination in the arms and/or legs, as well as bladder or bowel problems.
Every type of Cancer has risk factors, but they don’t tell us everything. Many people with one or more risk factors never get cancer, while others who get cancer may have had few or no known risk factors.
Radiation exposure : The best known environmental risk factor for brain tumors. This comes most often from radiation therapy to treat some other condition. For example, before the risks of radiation were known, children with ringworm of the scalp (a fungal infection) were sometimes treated with low-dose radiation therapy, which was later found to increase their risk of brain tumors as they got older.
Family history : Certain genetic disorders or illnesses may increase the risk of developing brain and spinal cord cancer. These include:
- Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
- Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2)
- Tuberous sclerosis
- Von Hippel-Lindau disease
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Other syndromes – Some families may have genetic disorders that are not well recognized or that may even be unique to a particular family.
Immune system disorders : People with impaired immune systems have an increased risk of developing lymphomas of the brain or spinal cord.
Factors with uncertain, controversial, or unproven effects on brain tumor risk: Cell phone use
Brain Cancer may be prevented to an extent by reducing the exposure to risk factors, outlined in the “Causes” section. However, the risk of many cancers in adults can be reduced with certain lifestyle changes (such as staying at a healthy weight or quitting smoking). But other than radiation exposure, there are no known lifestyle-related causes of brain and spinal cord tumors, so at this time there is no known way to protect against most of these tumors.
Cancer has different stages, each depicted by a Roman numeral from 1 to 4 (I, II, III and IV). Stage I is the first stage where the tumor is still small while at Stage IV, the patient’s condition is said to be critical because the tumor has spread to other organs of the body. Hence, a cancer’s stage refers to the tumor’s size and extent of spread. This is the simplest form of staging.
In Brain cancer, the stage depends on whether it is confined to Brain and spinal cord (localized cancer, Stage I) or whether it has spread to other organs (metastatic cancer).
The stage decides the kind of treatment you need to get. The greater the stage number, the more complex the treatment.
Needless to say, if the brain cancer is detected while it is still in Stage I and is easily accessible, survival rate is higher. The rate decreases progressively with the increase in stage. Stage III is considered critical, while stage IV is, more often than not, fatal.
However, medicine is evolving everyday to meet these challenges and to keep you happy, healthy and alive!
At this time there are no widely recommended tests to screen for brain and spinal cord tumors. However, as a precaution you may go to the doctor and check whether you have any of the inherited syndromes that increase the risk of developing the brain cancer. Presence of any of the signs and symptoms should also alert you. It might be nothing, but why risk it? Just get a screening.
Since it is a very difficult cancer to treat, there is usually a team in place, led by a neurosurgeon. Other doctors on the team may include:
- Neurologist: a doctor who diagnoses brain and nervous system diseases and treats them with medicines
- Radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
- Medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancers
- Endocrinologist: a doctor who treats diseases in glands that secrete hormones
Several types of treatment can be used to treat brain and spinal cord tumors, including:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Other types of drugs
Treatment is based on the type of tumor and other factors, and often more than one type of treatment is used. Discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs.
If you have any of the symptoms, please do visit the doctor.
If you feel any of the symptoms mentioned in the Symptoms section, you should probably visit a doctor.
To know more : Brain Cancer(Adult)
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