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Brain Cancer

The chance of a person developing malignant brain cancer is below 1%, with survival rates varying widely from case to case.

The chance of a person developing malignant brain cancer is below 1%, with survival rates varying widely from case to case.

Overview

About 1 in 185 women and 1 in 143 men will develop a malignant tumor in the brain or spinal cord in his or her lifetime1https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/about/key-statistics.html. Interestingly, most brain tumors are not found to have any clear origins or be linked to any known risk factors2https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. About 3 in 10 brain tumors are gliomas, or tumors that originate in the brain’s glial cells; most rapid-growing tumors fall under this category3https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/about/types-of-brain-tumors.html.

Traditionally, physicians look for brain tumors using CT scans and MRIs4https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html, the former of which exposes you to potentially harmful radiation5https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/what-are-radiation-risks-ct.

Symptoms

Symptoms of brain tumors can gradually worsen over time:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Personality or behavioral changes
  • Balance problems

Or they can occur suddenly:

  • Seizures
  • Coma

Brain tumors can also cause various other effects, such as tingling or numbness in different body parts or speech problems, depending on the region of the brain they are developing in. 

(Source)

Causes

It is difficult for researchers to pinpoint precisely what causes brain cancer, though they do know that the disease originates in genetic changes, or mutations, found in the DNA of normal prostate cells. Sometimes, these mutations can occur in oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, which are the genes in charge of when cells grow, divide, or die. Such mutations can be at least in part responsible for cancer and can be inherited from one’s parents or picked up randomly during one’s life6https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html

As previously mentioned, experts have found that most brain tumors are not linked to any known risk factors or clear causes. They have, however, found that exposure to radiation–often from a previous radiation therapy–is the most well-known environmental risk factor that may contribute to the development of brain tumors7https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html.

In other, rare cases, brain cancers can also run in families; generally, these cases will involve family members developing many brain tumors at a young age. Sometimes, these families will have clearly-defined disorders, such as Neurofibromatosis type 1 or 28https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html.

Detection

If your doctor suspects you have a brain tumor, they will likely do a physical exam first, checking your reflexes, muscle strength, and more. If there is cause for concern, they’ll suggest an imaging test, like an MRI or a CT scan, the former of which is widely considered the most effective route of analysis in this situation. And if a cancer is found, a specialist will often use imaging from your MRI or CT to create a map to guide them while taking a biopsy for further analysis of the tumor in question9https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html.

Diagnosis

Once you’re diagnosed with brain cancer, a specialist will traditionally use a staging system to determine your prognosis and form a treatment plan. However, tumors that originate in the brain (or spinal cord) are not classified using the traditional staging system because they rarely spread to other organs like other cancers can, but they can interfere with essential brain functions and spread to other parts of our central nervous system10https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html.

The World Health Organization does, however, divide brain tumors on a grading scale of I-IV, with a higher grade being faster growing. These grades are determined after experts analyze a sample of a given tumor under a microscope11https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-adults/about/types-of-brain-tumors.html.

A patient’s outlook is, then, determined by various other factors, including:

  • Age
  • Tumor type
  • Tumor location and size
  • Tumor grade
  • If the tumor can be operated upon
  • Whether or not the tumor cells have spread through the cerebrospinal fluid or central nervous system
  • If the tumor cells have noteworthy genetic mutations
  • The patient’s functional level

(Source)

Treatment

The best treatment for brain cancer depends on the nature of the disease and how far it has spread. Treatment options may include: surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation12https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/brain-tumor/types-treatment.

Please consult with a physician on treatment options as necessary.

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