Brain Tumor and Brain Cancer—Adult
Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the brain.
There are two main types:
- Primary—A tumor starts in the brain.
- Secondary—Cancer spreads to the brain from another site in the body. The most common come from lung cancer.
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Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. They go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to the brain or spinal cord. It's not clear what causes this. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.
Your chances are higher if you:
- Were exposed to radiation
- Have problems with your immune system
- Have people in your family with the same problems
Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and where it is. A growing tumor will often have fluid buildup around it. Fluid puts pressure on the brain. Pressure may cause:
- Headaches—grow worse over weeks or months
- Vomiting—mainly in the morning
- Weak arms or legs
- Loss of feeling in arms or legs
- Personality changes
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to a brain tumor. You may also have:
- An exam to test your muscle strength and movement
- Imaging tests such as:
- Biopsy —a sample of the tumor is studied in a lab
There are many types of tumors. Test results and a biopsy will help find the type. Knowing this helps with a care plan.
Care depends on the tumor type and where it is. Some methods may leave you with lasting problems.
Before starting care, you may need:
- Steroids to reduce swelling and fluid buildup
- Antiseizure medicines
You may need:
- Craniotomy —some or all of the tumor is removed through a small hole in the skull
- Shunt—a long thin tube is placed in the brain to drain fluid to another part of the body
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- External —Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body. Tumors that spread from another area of the body are treated with whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT).
- Internal—Radioactive materials are placed into the body near the cancer cells.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery —Higher doses of radiation can be delivered to specific areas of the brain.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
Some drugs can be placed into the spinal cord.
This will help you get better faster. The length of time needed depends on the amount of damage. Therapy will help with:
- Walking, balance, and building strength
- Daily skills such as dressing, eating, and using the toilet
- Speaking or swallowing problems
There is no way to prevent a brain tumor since the cause is unknown.
American Brain Tumor Association
American Cancer Society
Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada
Canadian Cancer Society
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Glioblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116043/Glioblastoma. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Overview of intracranial tumors. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/intracranial-and-spinal-tumors/overview-of-intracranial-tumors. Updated June 2018. Accessed July 26, 2018.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/29/2021