A brain tumor is a disease in which cells grow uncontrollably in the brain. Eventually these cells form a mass of tissue called a tumor. If the tumor invades nearby tissue or spreads to other parts of the body it is a malignant tumor. A malignant tumor is also known as cancer. Brain cancer can fall into two categories:
If the tumor does not invade other tissue it is considered a benign tumor. Although a benign tumor does not spread, it can cause damage by pressing on nearby brain tissue.
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The cause of most primary brain cancer and benign tumors is unknown. Researchers believe that the tumors may be due to defects in genes. These defects trigger cells to grow uncontrollably.
Secondary brain cancer is caused by the cancer spreading to the brain from another site.
These factors increase your child’s chance of developing brain tumors:
Symptoms depend on how large the tumor is and where it is located. Tumors can increase pressure and cause headaches. These headaches are different than they typical headaches everyone gets. The headaches may:
The tumor can also affect the function of nearby tissue and cause:
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will test muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, response to stimuli, and alertness. The doctor may also look into your child’s eyes to check for signs of brain swelling.
Pictures may be needed of structures inside your child's body. This can be done with:
A sample of your child's brain tissue may be removed for testing. This will help identify certain characteristics of the tumor. If it is cancer, your doctor will use results from a few different tests to determine the stage of the cancer. The stage help choose the best treatment options and make a prognosis.
Treatment depends on the type, size, and location of the cancer. It also depends on your child’s overall health. Some treatments can affect nearby healthy tissue. This may lead to physical or mental limitations.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend that your child takes medicine, such as:
Examples of surgical procedures used to treat brain tumors include:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. The doctor may choose to deliver the drugs into cerebrospinal fluid. This is fluid that surrounds the brain tissue.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. This is a common treatment for brain tumors. Radiation may be used alone or along with chemotherapy. Radiation may be:
Rehabilitation therapy is important to help regain lost skills or learn new ones. Rehabilitation therapy includes:
Your child may also work with an educational specialist. They can help with the transition back to school and learning problems.
Since the exact cause is unknown, there is no way to prevent brain tumors.
American Brain Tumor Association
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
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Brain tumor. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/brain. Accessed June 4, 2013.
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Last reviewed May 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 6/11/2013