Brain Tumor

Cancer and Neoplasms, Neurological

Brain tumors are an overgrowth of abnormal cells that form into a mass. They may be cancerous or benign (non-cancerous), but both take up space in the brain and may interfere with the nervous system, affecting important functions like movement, talking, hearing, and eating. There are two kinds of brain tumors, primary and metastatic brain tumors. Primary brain tumors develop in the brain and usually stay inside it while a metastatic brain tumor is caused by a cancer that spread to the brain from another part of the body. Brain tumors are rare. An estimated 24,000 adults and 3500 children (under the age of 15) in the United States will be diagnosed with primary brain tumors this year. There are several options for people diagnosed with brain tumors, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

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Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Vision changes
  • Trouble thinking and memory issues
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble hearing
  • Feeling off balance
  • Personality disturbances
  • Trouble walking Headaches that are chronic and not relieved by medication
  • Weakness in the extremities

The presence of any of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate a brain tumor and should be evaluated by a doctor for a diagnosis.

Risk Factors

  • Caucasian race
  • Age under 8 years old and over 70
  • Family history
  • History of radiation exposure
  • Formaldehyde exposure
  • Vinyl chloride exposure
  • Acrylonitrile exposure
  • Genetic disorder (e.g., Klinefelter syndrome; Turcot syndrome; neurofibromatosis)
  • AIDS
  • History of Epstein-Barr virus
  • Organ transplant recipients

Diagnosis

There are a wide range of tests for brain tumors which help the doctor understand if the tumor is a primary or a secondary tumor, and if a primary tumor is cancerous or benign. These tests include:

Neurological evaluation. You may have your vision, hearing, strength, reflexes, and balance checked.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses a large magnet to scan and take pictures of the brain tissue. Sometime, a dye is injected to see abnormalities better.

PET scan. A PET scan is done with a radioactive tracer that can help give a good 3-D picture of your organs. The tracer is given through an injection directly into a vein.

CT scan. A full body CT scan may be done to look at other parts of your body for cancer that might have spread to the brain.

Biopsy. A neurosurgeon may have to make a small hole in the skull and insert a needle to remove a small amount of tissue for examination.

Treatments

Treatment for brain tumor depends on several factors such as the location, size, and type of tumor and the health and age of the patient. Treatment usually involves surgery, but chemotherapy and radiation therapy are other treatment methods. Treatment following surgery depends on the type of tumor:

Benign. There is no chemotherapy, but even in the case of a benign tumor, a course of radiation may be prescribed. After surgery, you may be put on steroids to help reduce swelling in the brain.

Cancerous. Chemotherapy and/or radiation may be required. Other options include immunotherapy and brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy).

Inoperable tumors. Once in a while, a tumor cannot be surgically removed due to its location. The doctor may prescribe a course of radiation, or chemotherapy and radiation combined.

After brain surgery, you may need additional therapies and medications including:

  • Steroids (relieved swelling)
  • Anticonvulsants (prevents seizures)
  • Bevacizumab (a drug that blocks the growth of blood vessels that feeds tumors)
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

Brain tumors can only be treated by trained medical professionals and surgeons for treatment. Complementary and alternative therapies can help relieve side-effects of medications and aid your recovery from surgery. Inform your healthcare provider about any alternative therapy you are considering, including supplements and herbal remedies. The following supplements therapies may help improve your health, quality of life, and reduce stress:

  • Probiotic supplements
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Melatonin
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Hypnosis
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Guided imagery
  • Essential oil diffuser (lavender, chamomile, bergamot)
  • Acupuncture

Lifestyle Changes

If you have been diagnosed with a brain tumor, take steps to manage the symptoms while you await surgery.

Driving. Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery if you are having seizures.

Balance. Use caution if your balance is off. Use a walker or cane if necessary. Avoid stairs and use an elevator whenever possible.

Memory. If your memory and thoughts are affected, write things down. Keep a calendar, journal, or notebook.

Personality changes. If your personality is affected, let people know that this is a symptom of your condition.

Diet. Eliminate suspected food allergens (i.e., dairy, gluten, corn, soy, etc.). Use healthy cooking oils and eat lean meats like cold-water fish. Eliminate trans-fatty acids, especially in fried foods.

Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. Do not smoke tobacco. Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.

Exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor about any new form of exercise you are considering.

References

American Brain Tumor Association. (2018). Brain tumors: A handbook for the newly diagnosed. Retrieved from the American Brain Tumor Association: https://www.abta.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/newly-diagnosed.pdf

Cancer.Net Editorial Board. (2020, January). Brain tumor: Statistics. Retrieved from Cancer.Net: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/brain-tumor/statistics

Perkins, A. & Liu, G. (2016, February 01). Primary brain tumors in adults: Diagnosis and treatment. American Family Physician, 93(3), 212-218. Retrieved from American Academy of Family Physicians: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/0201/afp20160201p211.pdf

Schwartz, T. (2016, December 22). 7 Warning signs of a brain tumor you should know. Retrieved from Weill Cornell Medicine: https://meyercancer.weill.cornell.edu/news/2016-12-22/7-warning-signs-brain-tumor-you-should-know

St. Luke’s Hospital Writing Staff. (2021). Complementary and alternative medicine: Brain cancer. Retrieved from St. Luke’s Hospital: https://www.stlukes-stl.com/health-content/medicine/33/000024.htm

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