Brain Cancer: The Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

The last thing anyone wants to hear from their doctor is a cancer diagnosis. It’s a scary and intense condition that millions of Americans live with each year. In fact, over 26,000 people in 2019 are estimated to have been diagnosed with one of the most troubling forms—brain cancer.

Brain cancer is when cells overgrow in the brain and form a tumor. It’s often a life-threatening condition that can get worse the longer it goes without treatment. In order to catch brain cancer as early as possible, it’s critical that you know its signs and symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms Of Brain Cancer?

Brain cancer doesn’t always show obvious or clear symptoms when it first appears in the body. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of this disease can be confusing. It might seem like you’re experiencing nothing more than frequent headaches or some difficulty focusing.

There are 120 types of brain tumors. Although each of them will vary in size and severity, many of the symptoms are similar.

Brain cancer usually brings on the following symptoms, regardless of the specific type of cancer you’re dealing with: 

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty with concentrating, memorizing or attentiveness 
  • Seizures, especially with those who don’t usually experience them 
  • Nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Balancing issues or difficulty walking

While it’s possible these symptoms could be due to brain cancer, it’s best not to jump to conclusions and assume the worst. Each of these symptoms could potentially be connected to another health issue. Regardless, see your doctor if you have these symptoms to understand why you’re experiencing them. 

Some people are more at risk for brain cancer. People of any age and gender can get brain tumors but they are more common in men, children and older adults. Family history can also increase your risk factor if there are links in hereditary genetic factors.

Diagnosing Brain Cancer

When you notice changes in your health that might be symptoms of brain cancer, you’ll want to see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can run tests and determine what’s happening inside your body.

If a doctor suspects a patient has brain cancer, there are a number of tests that will be used to investigate a diagnosis. 

MRI
This test uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), a procedure that produces detailed images of the body.

CT Scan
This test scans the inside of the body using x-rays. 

PET-CT Scan
A PET-CT scan takes images of the organs and tissues inside the body.

Neurological, Vision and Hearing Tests
These tests are conducted to find out how the tumor is affecting someone’s brain function and possible changes to someone’s field of vision. Based on the results, this can determine which part of the brain is being affected by a tumor.

Neurocognitive Assessment
This brain test focuses on how the tumor might be impacting a patient’s memory, language abilities, dexterity and overall well-being.

EEG
To test for a patient’s vulnerability to seizures, a doctor might perform an EEG to test electrical activity inside the brain.

If your doctor diagnoses you with brain cancer, there are a number of steps in treating this serious condition.

Treatment Options For Brain Cancer

There isn’t a cure for brain cancer, so different treatments are done to help the patient.

The treatment for brain cancer depends on the type of tumor. There are 120 types of brain tumors, but not all of them are actually cancerous. If it’s a malignant tumor, then it is cancerous. If it’s a benign tumor, it is not cancerous. Non-cancerous tumors pose less of a threat, but do cause more issues if they begin to press onto nearby tissues.

Once you get an official diagnosis, your  cancer will be categorized with a stage based on the severity and type of tumor. This is usually done by removing a sample of the tumor and analyzing it under a microscope. This test determines how the tumor will behave. 

Generally, there are four different grades:

  • Grade One: The least severe. A tumor is slowly growing, unlikely to spread and can usually be cured with surgery.
  • Grade Two: Tumors are also less likely to grow and spread, but are more likely to regrow after treatment.
  • Grade Three: This is when tumors grow quickly by having more rapidly dividing cells, but no dead cells.
  • Grade Four: This is when the tumor is actively dividing, spreading and growing quickly. 

Doctors will then decide on a course of action to get rid of the tumor or minimize its presence. There are a number of ways this can be done. 

Surgery
This is the most direct method. Surgeons will tackle the tumor head-on to either remove it completely, or make it smaller. 

Radiation Therapy
Beams of radiation are used to kill tumor cells in small areas. It usually requires one treatment to determine if it’s a success.

Chemotherapy
Drugs are taken orally in pill form or by injecting the medicine through a vein. This method can trigger some heavy side effects like nausea, vomiting and hair loss.

If any of these methods work, occupational therapy is often the next step for recovery. 

Are You At Risk for  Brain Cancer?

Brain cancer shouldn’t be a worry for most people –  there’s only a one percent chance of developing it. However, it never hurts to be too careful, so be sure to visit your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms that might potentially be related to this disease. 

Patients with certain cases of brain cancer stand a chance of survival with the help of relevant treatments and skilled doctors. While there isn’t a direct cure for cancer, millions of dollars are being put towards research every year. As time goes on, hopefully there will one day be a more definitive cure to rid of cancer for good.

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Jan 13, 2020