Brain Cancer

What is Brain Cancer?

The term brain cancer encompasses all the forms of cancer that form in the brain. Although non-cancerous tumors in the brain can cause similar problems, they are handled differently since cancer can spread rapidly. There are dozens of different types of tumors that can form in the brain, but it’s still unclear what causes or increases your risk factors for developing this form of tumor.

Suspected risk factors include exposure to carcinogens, exposure to radiation in the head area, and an HIV diagnosis.


Once a doctor suspects you’re dealing with a neurological issue, they’ll order imaging tests to check the brain for cancer and other abnormalities.  CT scans can be used, but MRIs offer better contrast and detect smaller and harder-to-find tumors. Both types of scans generally involve the use of a contrast dye to further highlight differences in brain tissue. When a potential or confirmed tumor is located, a biopsy is performed to determine whether it is cancerous or benign so your neuro-oncologist can choose the right treatment.

What are the Symptoms of Brain Cancer?

Unfortunately, many brain tumors don’t create any noticeable symptoms until there is major growth and spread. All types of brain cancer tend to cause similar symptoms. Depending on which part of the brain is receiving pressure from a growing tumor, you could see practically any kind of health problem from trouble sleeping to isolated muscle weakness.

Symptoms include

  • Recurring headaches
  • Slow decline in reflexes and coordination leading to trouble walking or doing other task
  • Sudden and unusual changes in your mental state and emotional reactions to stimulus
  • Seizures of any intensity
  • Speech problems

There are many other potential causes for these symptoms, so it’s best to get a brain scan at the earliest signs of pain or cognitive issues to determine if there’s a tumor. It can be hard to diagnose a brain tumor at an early stage due to the lack of symptoms.

Brain Cancer Causes

Abnormal cells are the cause of these tumors. As the cells multiply, it is these abnormal cells which form the tumor mass. Brain tumors originating inside of the brain or the surrounding tissues are known as primary brain tumors. Secondary cancerous brain tumors spread to the brain from another part of the body.

There are several types of non-cancerous brain tumors. The most common cancerous brain tumor is medulloblastomas and is prevalent in children, whilst less common in adults. A second type of cancerous brain tumor is called primitive neuroectodermal. This condition is rare and develops in young children.

Other causes of brain cancer are linked to radiation exposure from the therapy of a previous cancer condition. It may take ten to fifteen years after these treatments for brain cancer to appear. The same can happen with exposure to environmental chemicals. Brain cancers can appear at any time in life, but the risk increases with age.

Family histories of cancer and genetics play a role for some individuals, and having cancer in the family certainly increases the risk of cancer developing. In some cases however, the brain tumor is random, and there will be no history of previous brain cancer in the family.

How is Brain Cancer Treated?

Treatment includes

Since brain tumors are surrounded by such delicate tissue, doctors usually recommend a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery is attempted when possible, but since this can cause brain damage, it’s not always the first suggestion. Secondary medications are used to help prevent complications during treatment, such as anti-seizure drugs. The right treatment depends on the characteristics of the tumor in addition to the patient’s age, overall health, and ability to handle the side effects of treatment.

Brain Cancer Prevention

There is no method that can help to prevent brain cancer, however early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the chances of secondary brain cancers. If a history of cancer exists, learning more about your own family genetics is a good health practice.

Lifestyle changes can also help, everything from maintaining a healthy weight and staying active to eliminating harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the risks of cancer. If you are diagnosed with brain cancer, it will be necessary to discuss limiting the dose of radiation you are currently being exposed to with your doctor.

If you work in an environment where you are at risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, be sure to wear the proper protective garments at all times, and to visit your doctor on a regular basis.