A brain tumor is an abnormal growth or mass of cells in or around your brain. Together, spinal tumors and brain tumors are called central nervous system (CNS) tumors.
Brain tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). Some tumors grow quickly, while others are slow growing.
Only about one-third of brain tumors are cancerous. But whether they’re cancerous or not, brain tumors can impact brain function and your health if they grow large enough to press on surrounding nerves, blood vessels and tissue.
Tumors that develop in your brain are called primary tumors. Tumors that spread to your brain after forming in a different part of your body are called secondary tumors, or metastatic brain tumors. This article focuses on primary brain tumors.
What are the types of brain tumors?
Researchers have identified more than 150 different brain tumors. Healthcare providers categorize primary tumors as glial (composed of glial cells in your brain) or non-glial (developed on or in the structures of your brain, including nerves, blood vessels and glands) and benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).Many types of brain tumors can also form in your spinal cord or column.
Who do brain tumors affect?
Brain tumors affect children and adults and can develop at any age. They’re slightly more common in people assigned male at birth (AMAB) than people assigned female at birth (AFAB).Meningioma, which is usually benign, is the only type of brain tumor that’s more common in people AFAB.
The most serious type of brain tumor, glioblastoma, is becoming more common among people who are as the general population ages.
What are the signs and symptoms of brain tumors?
Some people who have a brain tumor experience no symptoms, especially if it’s very small.Signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary depending on the tumor’s location, size and type. They can include:
Headaches that may be more severe in the morning or wake you up at night.
Difficulty thinking, speaking or understanding language.
Weakness or paralysis in one part or one side of your body.
Balance problems or dizziness.
Facial numbness or tingling.
Nausea or vomiting.
Confusion and disorientation.
It’s important to see your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
What causes brain tumors?
Researchers know brain tumors develop when certain genes on the chromosomes of a cell are damaged and no longer function properly, but they aren’t sure why this happens. Your DNA in your chromosomes tells cells throughout your body what to do — it tells them when to grow, when to divide or multiply and/or when to die.
When brain cell DNA changes, it gives your brain cells new instructions. Your body develops abnormal brain cells that grow and multiply faster than normal and sometimes live longer than normal. When that happens, the ever-growing crowd of abnormal cells takes over space in your brain.
In some cases, a person may be born with changes in one or more of these genes. Environmental factors, such as exposure to large amounts of radiation from X-rays or previous cancer treatment, may then lead to further damage.
In other cases, the environmental injury to the genes may be the only cause.
There are a few rare, inherited (passed down from parent to child) genetic syndromes that are associated with brain tumors, including:
Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1 gene).
Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2 gene).
Turcot syndrome (APC gene).
Gorlin syndrome (PTCH gene).
Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC1 and TSC2 genes).
Li-Fraumeni syndrome (TP53 gene).
Only about 5% to 10% of people with brain tumors have a family history of a brain tumor.
How are brain tumors treated?
Treating a stroke depends on many different factors. The most important factor in determining treatment is what kind of stroke a person has.
Brain tumor treatment depends on several factors, including:
The tumor’s location, size and type.
The number of tumors.
Your overall health.
Benign (noncancerous) brain tumors can usually be successfully removed with surgery and don’t usually grow back. It often depends on if your neurosurgeon can safely remove all of the tumor.
Treatments that are fairly well tolerated by the brains of adults, such as radiation therapy, may prevent the normal development of a child’s brain, especially in children younger than age five.
Brain surgery (craniotomy): When possible, neurosurgeons remove the tumor. They work very carefully, sometimes performing surgery when you’re awake (you won’t feel pain), to minimize damage to functional areas of your brain.
Radiation therapy: High doses of X-rays destroy brain tumor cells or shrink the tumor in this type of treatment.
Radiosurgery: This is a type of radiation therapy that uses very focused beams of radiation (gamma rays or proton beams) to destroy a tumor. It’s not actually surgery because it doesn’t require an incision (cut).
Brachytherapy: This is a form of radiation therapy. It involves surgically placing radioactive seeds, capsules or other implants directly in or near the cancerous tumor.
Chemotherapy: This therapy consists of anticancer drugs that kill cancer cells in your brain and throughout your body. You might receive chemotherapy through an injection into a vein or take it as a pill. Your healthcare provider may recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells left behind or to prevent remaining tumor cells from growing.
Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, is a type of treatment that uses your body’s immune system to fight cancer. The therapy mainly consists of stimulating your immune system to help it do its job more effectively.
Targeted therapy: With this treatment, drugs target specific features in cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Your healthcare provider may recommend targeted therapy if you have trouble tolerating the side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue and nausea.
Watchful waiting/active surveillance: If you have a brain tumor that’s very small and isn’t causing symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend closely monitoring the tumor for signs of growth with regular testing.
How are brain tumors treated?
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent a brain tumor. You can reduce your risk of developing a brain tumor by avoiding environmental hazards such as smoking and excessive radiation exposure.
If you have a first-degree biological relative (sibling or parent) who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, it’s important to tell your healthcare provider. They may recommend genetic counseling to see if you have an inherited genetic syndrome that’s associated with brain tumors