A brain tumor occurs when cells grow uncontrollably in the brain. Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells divide uncontrollably, they form a mass of tissue. The mass is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer usually refers to malignant tumors. These can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not spread. But, it can continue to grow and press structures near it, causing symptoms.
There are two main types of brain tumors:
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The cause of most primary brain cancer is unknown. Secondary brain cancer is caused by the cancer spreading to the brain from another site.
Factors that increase your chance of developing brain tumors include:
Any cancer in the body can spread to the brain. The most common tumors that may spread to the brain include:
Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and location. A growing tumor will often have fluid build-up around it. This is called edema. Edema puts pressure on the brain. Symptoms may develop gradually or rapidly.
Symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will have a neurological exam. It will test muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, response to external actions, and alertness. The doctor may also look into your eyes to check for signs of brain swelling.
Your doctor may need pictures of structures inside your body. This can be done with:
Your doctor may need to remove a sample of brain tissue for testing. This can be done with:
There are many different types of brain tumors. The doctor will classify the type. The type of brain tumor is important to determine the treatment approach.
After cancer is found, further tests may be done if there is concern that the cancer has spread. Treatment depends on the type, size, location of the cancer, and your overall health. Treatments may leave you with physical or mental limitations.
Before beginning treatment, you may take medicines, including:
Surgical procedures include:
Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This is a common treatment for brain tumors. Radiation may be:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, or through a tube called a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. It may also be delivered directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, which bathes the brain tissue. This form of chemotherapy is called intrathecal. This is most often used when cancer has spread from elsewhere in the body to the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Rehabilitation therapy includes:
American Brain Tumor Association
American Cancer Society
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Cancer Care Ontario
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Last reviewed June 2013 by Mohei Abouzied, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 6/4/2013