Brain cancer is a malignant growth (tumor, space occupying lesion –SOL) in the brain. It can arise from any of the different types of cells in the brain – either the nerve cells itself or the supporting cells. Sometimes cancer may arise from the lining around the brain (meninges) or other surrounding structures, like the pituitary or pineal glands, that are located near the brain is also referred to commonly as brain cancer. Treatment depends upon the size, location, nature of the cancerous growth (tumor).
Overall brain cancer is more common in males than females but women are more likely to suffer develop certain types like meningomas and pituitary adenomas. As with any malignancy, brain cancer can be of two types – primary (when the cancerous growth originates in the brain) and secondary (when cancer of other organs spreads to brain). This spread is known as metastasis. Lung cancer and breast cancer can often spread to the brain in advanced cases.
Brain Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of brain cancer depend upon the location, size and the rate of growth of the tumor. The brain is covered by the thick bony skull, therefore any growth in the brain will grow inwardly causing pressure (compression) on the surrounding structures (brain tissue, nerves, blood vessel) and increase the pressure in the brain (increased intracranial tension). Sometimes the cancerous growth can cause irritation in the surrounding nerve tissue.
Thus symptoms can be divided into three groups depending upon the effect of the cancerous growth (tumor) on the brain.
Symptoms due to compression of the surrounding structures:
- Altered personality (tearfulness, aggression, irritability).
- Changes in hearing, taste and smell.
- Problem during swallowing, reading and writing.
- Loss of balance, abnormal gait (walking).
- Difficulty in speaking and understanding others.
- Weakness of limbs (upper and lower both can be affected together or individually), numbness of face and tingling sensation.
- Drooping of eye lids (ptosis), double vision, blurred vision and redness of the eyes.
- Tremor (involuntary persistent movement).
- Loss of control over bladder and bowel movements.
Symptoms due to increased (intracranial) pressure in the brain :
- Headache which is :
– worse after waking up but gradually eases.
– during sleep.
– associated with other symptoms like vomiting and with change of posture.
- Drowsiness or even coma.
- Eyesight (visual) problems.
Symptoms due to irritation of the of the brain:
- Epileptic fits (convulsion).
Cancerous growth in the pituitary gland can cause a separate set of symptoms :
- Nipple discharge (milk).
- Breast development in males.
- Abnormal hair growth.
- Intolerance to heat and cold.
- Abnormal menstruation (period).
What causes brain cancer?
Genetic mutations (unexpected sudden change in the DNA) is one of the main reasons behind all cancers, including brain cancer. There are substances which can induce cancer (carcinogens) by inducing mutation and inhibiting the tumor suppressing (certain genes are responsible for arresting growth and killing abnormally growing cells) genes.
- Hereditary: patients of some inherited disease like neurofibromatosis 2.
- Secondary brain cancers occur due to spread of cancer from other sites (breast, lung, colon, kidney) via the bloodstream to the brain.
- Family history : having a first line relative with brain cancer (applies only to certain types).
- Age: some cancers are more common with advancing age, particularly in seniors.
- Radiation: exposure to ionizing and atomic radiation. The debate about cellular (mobile) phone radiation is still raging on.
- Environmental toxin: vinyl chloride.
- Lifestyle : cigarette smoking.
Treatment of Brain Cancer
Treatment options are :
- Surgery: small and easily accessible tumors are removed.
- Radiation: X-ray or proton beams to kill cancerous cells. Usually used in treating secondary brain cancers.
- Radiosurgery: stereotactic radiosurgery uses multiple rays of radiation to focus on the cancer site
- Chemotherapy: drugs used to kill cancer cells.
- Targeted drug therapy: targets specific abnormality. Like in glioblastoma (problem is abnormal new vessel growth) so bevacizumab (stops the growth of new blood vessels) is used.