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Brain Tumors: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Introduction:

Brain tumors are identified as any abnormal mass of cells growing within the brain. These tumors can either be malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous). Brain tumors are a fairly common phenomena and over 200,000 cases occur in the US alone each year. However, whether the tumor is cancerous or not, it can cause issues as there is only so much space within the skull. Tumors often cause swelling to occur and that puts added pressure in the skull, which can turn into a much more serious issue, especially since over time the tumor will likely grow in size.

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Types of Tumors:

There are two primary types of brain tumors. One type of tumor is a primary tumor which means that the tumor begins in the brain. The other is a metastatic tumor which means the tumor originates in other parts of the body before breaking off and going to the brain. Many primary tumors end up being benign, but still pose the threat of causing problems as they grow (usually very slowly) and cause inflammation and also swelling within the brain. Secondary tumors are three times more common than primary tumors, and are much more likely to be cancerous as tumors from other parts of the body break off and metastasize to the brain.

There are several types of brain tumors that are common in adults:

‘Gliomas Tumor’ are quite common brain tumors. They can also occur in the brain stem and the spinal column., Tumors begin in a type of cell called the glial cells. Gliomas account for about 30% of all adult brain tumors, and about 80% of all malignant tumors of the brain.

‘Meningiomas’ are tumors that doctors are not sure about the origins of. However, most tumors occur in adults between ages 40 and 70. These tumors are generally benign and slow-growing, and are rarely fatal unless they cause such great pressure in the skull, thus causing death. Meningiomas are the most common in women.

‘Schwannomas’ tumors are found in the tissue that covers the nerves called the nerve sheath. These tumors develop in the Schwann cells and are usually benign. Most common Schwannoma tumor is called acoustic neuroma, and this tumor occurs in both men and women about equally.

Other rare tumors can happen in adults including the pituitary tumors, primary lymphoma, or ependymomas.

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What Cause Adult Brain Tumors?

Doctors do not know what causes most primary tumors, however some risk factors can be pinpointed. Some genetic diseases can increase the chances of primary tumors occurring including ‘Turcot Syndrome’ and ‘Neurofibromatosis’. Radiation treatments for brain cancer can increase chances of more brain tumors developing in the future. There is no concrete proof that the increased use of cell phones causes an increase in the incidences of brain tumors according to the National Cancer Institute reports. There was no rise in the incidences of brain tumors reported between 1992 and 2008 which was a period of time during which the use of cell phones skyrocketed. However, brain tumor symptoms can take 10+ years to manifest themselves making longer-term studies needed. Some European studies have shown slightly higher risks of brain tumors among heavy cell phone users, but more research needs to be done to confirm those results.

What Are the Symptoms of an Adult Brain Tumor?

Symptoms of brain tumors vary greatly. Size of the tumor and the level of swelling play a massive role in the symptoms seen. Symptoms include cognitive changes like memory loss, confusion, and disorientation. Some people get headaches occurring while sleeping, when waking up, or as a result of physical movements like coughing. Others experience seizures or weakness in the limbs/face/one side of the body, lack of coordination or balance, trouble walking, difficulty in reading/talking/deciphering the speech of others, or changes in their ability to hear/taste/vision/smell. Yet others experience bladder control problems or changes in moods/personalities/behaviours.

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How Is the Adult Brain Tumor Diagnosed?

A number of tests diagnose brain tumors. One such test is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which scans the brain and nerve tissues. To receive a CT scan the patient lies down on the table which then slides into the scanner where the images of the brain are taken. Cranial Computed Tomography (CT) Scan takes x-rays of your head with an x-ray beam that rotates around you and takes many clear images of the head. The images are put together to create clearer picture of the inside of your head. Electroencephalograms (EEG) examine the brains electrical impulses. A technician places flat metal disks on your scalp to see your brain’s activities. Tumor tissue can also be removed during biopsies or surgeries may be examined to diagnose the tumor types. Cerebral spinal fluid can be tested for cancer cells.

How Is an Adult Brain Tumor Treated?

Brain tumor treatments for adults include being treated with combination of surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy as well as some medication. Treatment varies based on age, tumor size, tumor type, and health factors. Surgery is a common option for many primary brain tumors; however, some tumors may not be able to be fully removed. In these cases, the surgeon will attempt to shrink the size of the tumor much as possible without damaging the surrounding tissue. The extent to which the brain tumor is able to be removed is largely dependent on the size of the tumor and the exact location of the tumor. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy and medications may also help reduce tumor sizes further. Doctors treat symptoms like pain or seizures with appropriate medications whenever necessary.

Prognosis of Adult Tumors:

Early treatment increases chances of survival greatly. Greatest rates of survival include the young ages 20 to 44 and the lowest survival rates are generally people aged 55 to 64 or older. Most survivable tumors are oligodendroglioma as well as ependymoma or anaplastic ependymoma tumors. The deadliest tumors include glioblastoma or anaplastic oligodendroglioma as well as anaplastic astrocytoma.

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Conclusion:

There are many things that can be done to help improve the diagnosis of people with brain tumors. Some tumors happen to be more “survivable” than others, and age tends to be a big factor in how well people survive the tumor. Younger people have a much higher survival rate than the older population, and some tumors in general have higher survivability rate overall. This is generally based on the aggression of that specific type of tumor. Surgeries are generally a common form of treatment and are needed for two reasons: either to remove the tumor or to relieve pressure in the skull. Combined with radiation, chemotherapy, and other forms of treatment, many tumors can be shrunk to lengthen the patients’ lifespan, and many can be removed all together.

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