A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of cells within the brain. Brain tumors can be either primary, meaning they arise from the brain itself, or metastatic, meaning they spread from a tumor located elsewhere in the body. Brain tumors cause injury by destroying normal brain cells, causing inflammation and increasing the pressure within the skull. Some brain tumors grow quickly while others develop very slowly. Brain tumors are classified by several criteria including: location, type of cells, and whether they are benign or malignant growths. Tumors occur in all age groups but in the adult population, gliomas and meningiomas are most common.
Gliomas include oligodendrogliomas, astrocytomas and gliobastomas. There is great variability within this group as to invasiveness and prognosis. The second major category of brain tumor, meningioma, tends to be less aggressive and are usually classified as benign. There are several other types of brain tumors including: ependymomas, craniopharyngiomas, pituitary tumors, lymphoma of the brain, pineal gland tumors and primary germ cell tumors. Some of these tumors grow very rapidly while others grow over years and do not give any symptoms until they are very large.
The symptoms of a brain tumor are related to the size and location of the tumor as well as how much swelling is associated with it. Symptoms include: headache (especially during sleep and on wakening), vomiting (typically in the morning), seizures, weakness or change in mental function. Brain tumors may also cause sleepiness, changes in any of the senses, confusion, difficulty reading, writing or talking, tremor, loss of bladder of bowel control, loss of coordination, numbness or tingling.
Brain tumors are diagnosed with CT scans or MRIs. In addition, several other tests, including a brain biopsy, may be required to identify the specific type of tumor which will then help guide treatment. In the case of metastatic brain tumors, it is important to identify the primary tumor elsewhere in the body. Metastatic brain tumors generally come from lung cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer and a few others. Once the abnormal cells reach the brain and begin growing, they can cause the same brain injury as a primary brain tumor.
Treatment of brain tumors involves a team approach with a neurosurgeon, oncologist, neuroradiologist, and radiation therapist. Treatment options include surgery (typically a craniotomy), chemotherapy, medications, radiation therapy, and physical therapy. Treatment is guided by the type and location of brain tumor as is prognosis.