Brain Cancer

By:    Published: December 21, 2011

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According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), more than 17,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year. While some of these tumors are found to be noncancerous, others are malignant and require cancer treatment right away. There are several signs and symptoms which can be an indicator that a brain tumor has developed. It’s important to know these symptoms since early detection can often lead to better chances of recovery when it comes to brain cancer.

Definition

When a mass of abnormal cells collects in the brain, a brain tumor is formed. Some brain tumors are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous. Those which are malignant, or cancerous, are an indicator of brain cancer.

Types

There are two types of brain tumors:

  • Primary: This type of brain tumor is one that starts in the brain. Primary brain tumors are the less common type of brain tumor. They may or may not be cancerous.
  • Secondary: When cancer first develops in one part of the body, and then travels to the brain and forms a tumor there, it is considered a secondary tumor. This is also called metastatic brain cancer since it occurs when a brain tumor metastasized. Secondary brain tumors are cancerous and are much more common than primary brain tumors.

Symptoms

The following symptoms may indicate that an individual has a brain tumor and is therefore at risk for brain cancer:

  • Headaches, especially ones that feel the worst in the morning
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of coordination or stumbling
  • Weakness or loss of feeling in the limbs
  • Confusion in everyday matters
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in memory
  • Changes in speech
  • Changes in hearing
  • Changes in vision, such as blurred or double vision
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Drowsiness

Causes And Risk Factors

There are different causes for the two different types of brain cancer. Brain cancers caused by primary brain tumors are triggered by mutations in the DNA of normal cells. The mutations cause these cells to grow and divide at a faster than normal rate. In addition, these mutations may also allow the cells to continue living when healthy cells would die. This results in a mass of abnormal cells that forms the brain tumor. Unfortunately, doctors do not know what causes these mutations to occur in the first place.

Brain cancer caused by secondary brain tumors are the result of cancer forming in another part of the body then spreading to the brain. This can occur with any type of cancer, but The Mayo Clinic explains that it is most common with breast cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer and melanoma.

There are several risk factors for brain cancer which have been identified, including:

  • Age: Although a brain tumor can occur at any age, older people are much more likely to develop one. The older a person is, the more he or she is at risk for developing a brain tumor, and therefore the risk for brain cancer increases as well.
  • Race: Brain tumors are more likely to develop in Caucasian individuals than in people of any other race. There is one exception: meningioma is a specific type of brain tumor more likely to occur in African-Americans.
  • Family history: There are some brain tumors that are more likely to occur in individuals who have a history of brain tumors in their family. In addition, certain genetic syndromes may increase a person’s risk for brain tumors, and therefore their risk for brain cancer.
  • Radiation exposure: Being exposed to a type of radiation called ionizing radiation may result in an increased risk of developing a brain tumor. Ionizing radiation is used for the treatment of cancer through radiation therapy. It is also present in the radiation exposure caused by atomic bombs. Though some people are wary of other types of radiation as well, such as the electromagnetic fields from power lines and radiofrequency radiation from microwaves and cell phones, there is no clear proof that these types of radiation can lead to brain tumors or brain cancer.
  • Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals may increase a person’s risk for brain tumors and brain cancer. This is typically associated with people who are exposed to chemicals for long periods of time, such as those who are exposed to chemicals through their everyday profession.

Outside of avoiding chemical and radiation exposure, there are no methods to prevent brain cancer.

Treatment

There are several treatment options for brain cancer, including:

  • Surgery: In cases where a cancerous brain tumor is accessible via surgery, a surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible. Sometimes, the tumor cannot be completely separated from the surrounding brain tissue. In other situations, the brain tumor may be close to a sensitive area, so complete removal may not be possible. Risks associated with this type of treatment include infection, bleeding or damage to the brain.
  • Radiation: A machine can direct beams of high-energy particles towards the body to kill the cells in a malignant tumor. The amount of radiation used varies based on the type of tumor involved. There are often side effects that come along with radiation therapy, including headaches, fatigue and scalp irritation.
  • Chemotherapy: With chemotherapy, drugs are used to kill the cells in a malignant tumor. These drugs may be taken orally or intravenously. The most common side effects with chemotherapy are nausea, vomiting and hair loss.
  • Complementary and alternative therapies: Some doctors also recommend changes in diet, herbal supplements and other types of complementary and alternative therapies as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan for brain cancer.

Sources:

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