Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Brain Tumors

Cancer Types - Brain Tumors

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the brain. The tumor can either originate in the brain itself (primary brain tumor), or come from another part of the body and travel to the brain (metastatic or secondary brain tumor). Brain tumors may be classified as either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), depending on their behavior.

A benign tumor does not contain cancer cells and usually, once removed, does not recur. Most benign brain tumors have clear borders, meaning they do not invade surrounding tissue. These tumors can, however, cause symptoms similar to cancerous tumors because of their size and location in the brain.

Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors are usually fast growing and invade surrounding tissue. Malignant brain tumors very rarely spread to other areas of the body, but may recur after treatment. Sometimes, brain tumors that are not cancer are called malignant because of their size and location, and the damage they can do to vital functions of the brain.

Metastatic brain tumors are tumors that begin to grow in another part of the body, then spread to the brain through the lymph system and bloodstream. Common types of cancer that can travel to the brain include lung cancer, breast cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, melanoma (a type of skin cancer), and colon cancer. These cancers are described and treated based on the specific type of cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the brain is still called breast cancer.

Facts about brain tumors

According to the National Cancer Institute:

Illustration of lateral view of brain and divisions into cerebrum, cerebellum and brainstem
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What causes brain tumors?

The majority of brain tumors have abnormalities of genes involved in cell cycle control, causing uncontrolled cell growth. These abnormalities are caused by alterations directly in the genes or by chromosome rearrangements which change the function of a gene.

Patients with certain genetic conditions (for example, neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and retinoblastoma) also have an increased risk of developing tumors of the central nervous system. There have also been some reports of people in the same family developing brain tumors who do not have any of these genetic syndromes.

Workers in oil refining, rubber manufacturing, and chemists may have a higher incidence of certain types of tumors, although not all studies have found such links. Which, if any, chemical toxin is related to an increase in tumors is unknown at this time.

Patients who have received radiation therapy to the head as part of prior treatment for other malignancies are also at an increased risk for new brain tumors.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

The following are the most common symptoms of a brain tumor. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms vary depending on the size and location of tumor. Many symptoms are related to an increase in pressure in or around the brain. There is no spare space in the skull for anything except the delicate tissues of the brain and its fluid. Any tumor, extra tissue, or fluid can cause pressure on the brain and result in increased intracranial pressure (ICP), which may result from one or more of the ventricles that drain cerebral spinal fluid (CSF, the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) becoming blocked and causing the fluid to be trapped in the brain. This increased ICP may cause the following:

Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebrum (large, outer part of the brain) may include:

Symptoms of brain tumors in the brainstem (base of brain) may include:

Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebellum (back of brain) may include:

The symptoms of a brain tumor may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is a brain tumor diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for brain tumors may include the following:

Diagnosis of a brain tumor depends mostly on the types of cells involved and the tumor location.

What are the different types of brain tumors?

Illustration of  the brain detailing common tumor sites, adult
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There are many different types of brain tumors. They are usually categorized by the type of cell where the tumor begins, or they are also categorized by the area of the brain where they occur. The most common types of brain tumors include the following:

What is the treatment for brain tumors?

Specific treatment for brain tumors will be determined by your doctor based on:

Treatment may include (alone or in combination):

Newer therapies that may be used to treat brain tumors include the following:

What is the long-term outlook for a person with a brain tumor?

Prognosis greatly depends on all of the following:

As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from individual to individual. Prompt medical attention and aggressive therapy are important for the best prognosis. Continuous follow-up care is essential for a person diagnosed with a brain tumor. Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as second malignancies, can occur in survivors of brain tumors.

Rehabilitation for lost motor skill and muscle strength may be required for an extended amount of time. Speech therapists and physical and occupational therapists may be involved in some form of rehabilitation. More research is needed to improve treatment, decrease side effects of the treatment for this disease, and develop a cure. New methods are continually being discovered to improve treatment and to decrease side effects.

Please consult your doctor with any questions or concerns you may have regarding this condition.

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