Get an Understanding of Brain Cancer
Brain cancer happens when tumors form in the brain. This type of cancer can also affect the central spine. It can grow from many parts of the brain. According to the National Cancer Institute, between 100,000 and 200,000 people are living with brain and other nervous system cancer in the U.S. The good news is that the rate of this type of cancer is getting slightly lower over time among Americans.
Brain cancer types
Some brain tumors are not dangerous because they grow slowly and don’t pose a serious health threat. However, many tumors that form in the brain can grow quickly and can spread to other parts of the body. These tumors are called “malignant” and come in two types:
- Primary – These are tumors that start in the brain or in near tissues, nerves or glands. These tumors don’t occur as often as secondary brain tumors, which are called “metastatic” tumors.
- Metastatic – Metastatic tumors actually result from cancer that starts somewhere else in your body. As the cancer grows and spreads, it can begin to form tumors in the brain. These are called “secondary” tumors. They are most often are found in people who have a history of cancer or have ongoing cancer. The most common cancers that spread to the brain include breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer and skin cancer.
What causes brain cancer?
Your doctor may not know the exact cause of your brain tumor, but the following factors can increase your risk:
- Age – Brain cancer can affect people of any age. It is much more common among people over 60 years old. However, children are the only ones to get some types of brain tumors.
- Radiation exposure – Radiation therapy that’s used to treat cancer can cause brain tumors to form. More common forms of radiation, like the emissions from power lines, cellphones and microwave ovens, have not been proven to cause brain tumors.
- Family history of brain tumors – People with a family history of brain tumors or certain other syndromes are at greater risk for brain tumors.
Diagnosing brain cancer
Brain tumors can be hard to diagnose. Because diagnosis can be complicated, a patient may have to get several different medical specialists involved. A number of tests may also be needed, such as:
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Computed tomography scan
- Spinal tap
Learn about brain cancer symptoms
To get the most accurate and complete diagnosis, make sure you tell your doctor about all symptoms you’re having. The symptoms can include:
- Changes in speech, vision or hearing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lack of balance or movement problems
- Muscle issues
- Numbness or tingling
- Changes in mood, personality or ability to concentrate
Brain tumors grow quickly and affect one of the body’s most important organs. If you have any of these symptoms, or suspect you have a brain tumor, contact your doctor right away.
Grading cancer levels
Instead of stages, the World Health Organization uses four grades to evaluate tumors of the central nervous system and brain.
- Grade I has a low chance of spreading. It may be curable with surgery and no other treatment.
- Grade II tumors are not very advanced but may come back after treatment. Some of these tumors often increase to higher grades of malignancy.
- Grade III tumors show evidence of malignancy and have started to invade other areas.
- Grade IV usually means that the disease is growing rapidly, including having metastasized to other areas of the body.
Common brain cancer treatments
Treating brain tumors can be challenging, so a team that includes many doctors may work together to care for a brain tumor patient. The team may also include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists and others.
If the tumor is close to certain areas of the brain, or near the spinal cord, surgery can sometimes be difficult. Also, some types of chemotherapy may not get to the place in the brain where it’s needed.
- With low-grade brain tumors, surgery sometimes works without other treatment. This is especially true if the tumor can be completely removed. If some amount of tumor remains after surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used.
- For higher-grade tumors, treatment usually begins with surgery. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are added as needed.
Brain cancer can come back
Sometimes a patient’s tests may show that the brain tumor’s growth has stopped or there are no visible signs of a tumor. When that happens, the doctor may say the cancer is “in remission.” However, brain cancer can sometimes return.
It’s important for you to continue getting tested, in case the tumor comes back. Talk with your cancer team and decide what to do if the tumor returns.
Coping with brain cancer
Brain cancer can be hard on you and your family in many ways. Here are some things you can do to cope:
- Talk with your cancer team – Your doctors should keep you informed about your treatment. They can also give you information on support groups in your area and help in other ways.
- Connect with outside groups – Contact organizations like the American Cancer Society and others nearby your home.
- Count on family and friends – Your close friends and family members can help you get through the tough times. Remember, everyone needs help dealing with this type of cancer.
Regional Cancer Care Associates — Offering advanced cancer care
Doctors at Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) are specialists in brain cancer. These experts have proven their leadership as professors, clinicians and researchers and were trained at the world’s most distinguished medical institutions. RCCA offers high-quality, advanced treatment near your home. We work with you and your family to make sure your care is second to none.