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Can Brain Tumors Cause Mental Illness

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Limitations Of Brain Scans

How a Brain Tumour Can Affect Your Mental Health | Young Adults | Living with a Brain Tumour

Even though brain scans have many benefits, they do have some limitations. Mental illness is tricky to diagnose and not everyone with the same diagnosis will show the same brain abnormalities. Also, there might be multiple reasons for a single type of brain abnormality. Brain scans might also have difficulty identifying brain abnormalities during the early stages of certain mental health conditions. Generally, though, brain scans provide limited insight when:

  • Mental illness presents differently in different individuals
  • Mental health patients have overlapping symptoms or multiple diagnoses
  • A mental health condition is in the earlier stages

What’s The Outlook For People With A Brain Tumor

The outcome for people with brain tumors varies greatly. Factors that can affect prognosis include the tumorâs type, grade, and location successful removal of all of the tumor and your age and overall health.

In many people, doctors can successfully treat a brain tumor. Other people live active and fulfilling lives with brain tumors that do not cause symptoms.

In some people, brain tumors can recur after treatment. These people may need to continue treatments, including chemotherapy or radiation, to keep the tumor from growing or spreading. After brain tumor treatment, you should follow up with your doctor regularly.

What Are The Common Causes Of Chemical Imbalances In The Brain

Chemical imbalances in the brain may stem from a variety of causes including a brain tumor, the death of important brain cells, an anxiety disorder, medication or drug abuse, or it may even be congenital. A chemical imbalance may cause minor or major personality and mood changes, as well as mental illness. When brain chemistry is altered, a person experiences a wide range of distressing symptoms. In some cases, medication can help reverse or control chemical changes and return a person to normal or near normal functioning, but some imbalances have a permanent adverse impact on a persons life.

When brain cells die, a person develops symptoms indicative of illnesses like Parkinsons and other degenerative diseases. This is because cell death initiates chemical imbalances in the brain, which commonly lead to a further decline in cognition, motor skills and reflexes. For instance, in Parkinsons disease, the death of brain cells decreases the production of the brain chemical dopamine, which interrupts neurotransmitter communication and creates symptoms such as body tremors and declining control over body movements.

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The Effect Of Fighting Doctors On Mental Health

As for me? When I saw my neurosurgeon in April, I was forced to talk to a social worker because I had scored worse on the depression screening test than I had before. The social worker suggested I see the psychiatrist they have there in the brain tumor center, who was apparently so wonderful at overseeing the mental health of us poor people with tumors in our heads.

The social worker said, Shes so great with patients. You do have cancer, dont you? I said, No, my tumor was benign. She replied, Ohwell, she only sees cancer patientsbut maybe shed make an exception I said no thank you. If the tumor in my brain wasnt good enough for her, then she would have nothing to do with my mental health wellbeing, thank you very much.

Mental Illnesses Are Diagnosed By Symptoms

Common Symptoms Of A Brain Tumor

Unlike some disease diagnoses, doctors can’t do a blood test or culture somemicroorganisms to determine whether a person has a mental illness. Maybescientists will develop discrete physiological tests for mental illnesses in thefuture until then, however, mental health professionals will have to diagnosemental illnesses based on the symptoms that a person has. Basing a diagnosis onsymptoms and not on a quantitative medical test, such as a blood chemistry test,a throat swab, X-rays, or urinalysis, is not unusual. Physicians diagnose manydiseases, including migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s diseasebased on their symptoms alone. For other diseases, such as asthma ormononucleosis, doctors rely on analyzing symptoms to get a good idea of what theproblem is and then use a physiological test to provide additional informationor to confirm their diagnosis.

Mental health professionals evaluate symptoms to make a diagnosis of mentalillness.

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What Is A Brain Scan

A brain scan is like an X-ray for your brain. The scan takes very detailed pictures of your brains size, shape, and activity, which helps doctors see and understand whats going on in your mind. The most common types of brain scans include:

  • Electroencephalography or EEG, which shows how your brain acts during certain psychological states such as alertness and drowsiness.
  • Computerized Tomography or CT, which uses ionizing radiation to take pictures of the structure of your brain.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI, which uses echo waves to produce pictures of your brain. MRIs also help doctors detect how much grey matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid you have in your brain.
  • Positron Emission Tomography or PET, which injects radioactive sugar glucose into your veins through an IV. Unlike the CT scan and the MRI, which take pictures of how your brain looks, the PET scan shows how your brain functions by looking at which neurons in your brain react to the sugar glucose.
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, which combines pictures from multiple MRIs to show how your brain functions.

Get The Answers You Need

If you have additional questions about brain tumor personality changes, or about brain tumors in general, you can turn to the experts at Moffitt Cancer Center. Our Neuro-Oncology Programs brain tumor team includes neurologists, medical oncologists, neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, neuropsychologists and neuropathologists, all of whom work together to develop individualized treatment plans for our patients.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Arnold Etame, neurological surgeon, Neuro-Oncology Program

To request a consultation with one of the specialists at Moffitt Cancer Center, call us at or fill out a new patient registration form online.

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Environmental Injustice And Mental Health

Air pollution doesn’t respect geopolitical boundaries, so air pollution’s impacts on mental health are relevant to everyone in western Pennsylvania. But many of the communities that experience the highest levels and most frequent spikes of air pollution also experience other community stressors like poverty, crime, and racism.

In Brokamp’s study, children from neighborhoods experiencing high levels of poverty were the most likely to experience a mental illness crisis following spikes in air pollution. He said this could be because poverty and crime cause stress, which results in inflammation that can harm brains and immune systems, which could worsen similar impacts from air pollution exposure.

Examples of what some researchers call “toxic zip codes”regions where a combination of environmental injustice, racism, and poverty create substantial negative health impactsabound in western Pennsylvania.

For example, the Monongahela Valley , a former steel corridor of municipalities from the southern tip of Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border including Braddock, Duquesne, Clairton, McKeesport, Charleroi, Monessen and Uniontown, regularly sees extreme spikes in air pollution leading to some of the dirtiest air in the country.

And air pollution exposure in these communities is likely worsening mental health effects in ways that aren’t fully recognized by researchers and public health officials.

Diagnosing And Treating Psychiatric Disorders In Patients With Brain Tumors

STRATEGIES TO REDUCE BRAIN FOG: Breast Cancer & Mental Health

The presence of certain risk factors can indicate the need for additional screening and evaluation. Large tumors , pituitary tumors, and meningiomas all carry high risks of depression and anxiety symptoms. Cognitive impairment and seizures that result from brain tumors, along with treatments such as glucocorticoids, also put patients at risk . From a psychosocial standpoint, cancer patients who are younger, have functional limitations, and lack social support are at increased risk for depression, while past trauma, demoralization, and metastasis can increase risk for anxiety. Cancer patients from certain marginalized and minority populations and patients with a history of mental health issues are also more likely to have cancer-related depression or anxiety . Research focused on brain tumor patients specifically indicates that female gender, lower tumor grade, lower education level, and a history of psychiatric illness all predict anxiety and depression . Healthcare providers should be aware of these risk factors when screening brain tumor patients for depression and anxiety disorders.

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Aggressive Or Combative Behavior

Some behaviors present special challenges. In rare cases, a person can suffer from agitation or paranoia. Behavior can become aggressive or combative. These behaviors can be caused or intensified by various medications. Doctors manage these symptoms by modifying drug dosages, or by prescribing antipsychotic drugs or tranquilizers.

Aggressive behavior is particularly difficult when safety becomes an issue. The best strategy is to pay attention to warning signs of growing anger or threats of violence. Tell your doctor, and try to resolve the problem before it escalates.

When dealing with an agitated person: Try to create a calm environment. Reduce noise, bright lights, excess movement, and the number of people in the vicinity. Alternately, remove your loved one from stressful situations.

Speak calmly and maintain eye contact. Assure the person of his or her safety. Orient the person by identifying yourself and stating your intentions.

Find out if something specific is bothering the person and resolve the problem. For example, the person may be hungry, thirsty, tired, afraid of something, or need to go to the bathroom. Try to calm the person by encouraging him or her to talk and by listening to his or her complaints. Dont disagree or argue with the person. Let the person talk until he or she calms down.

If the person becomes combative, remain calm. Take a few steps back and give the person plenty of room. Continue to agree and assure the person that he or she is safe.

Poor Brain Immunity May Be The Cause Of Mental Illness

Poor brain immunity may be the cause of mental illness. Mental illness affects approximately 2% to 3% of the population. It is characterized by changes in perceptions of reality, often with hallucinations and paranoid reactions.

Most people affected are schizophrenics, but people with bipolar disorder may also experience psychotic symptoms.

The currently available antipsychotic drugs often do not work well, and for patients, their living conditions may be difficult.

According to data from the Swedish National Health and Welfare Board, the average life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is about 15 years shorter than that of ordinary people.

It is not completely clear what biological mechanism causes psychosis, but recent studies have shown that the immune activation of brain glial cells may be the cause of psychosis. Goran Einberg, professor of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute and the corresponding author of the study, said: Kynurenic acid levels in the brains of mentally ill patients are elevated. A messenger from the brains immune system to neurons..

Previous genome-wide association studies have shown that GRK3 protein is expressed through genetic changes in the immune system of patients with psychosis.

Now, researchers at the Karolinska Institute at the University of California, San Diego and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA, have studied more specifically which parts of the immune system affect mental illness.

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Using Teamwork To Cope

In all cases, it is important to notify your medical team about behavior changes. Chronic illness of a family member can cause emotional distress to the entire family. Dr. Kayl recommends an active role of patients and caregivers in finding ways to cope. The bottom line for all interventions is this: there is no magic bullet. Each patient will bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. Its up to the doctor-patient-family team to develop realistic and attainable goals for coping with cognitive and behavioral changes. What works for one person may not work for another. These are the differences that make us human.

This article was reprinted with permission from Search, Issue #57 . For more information, contact the National Brain Tumor Foundation at 800.934.2873 or visit

Other Pediatric Brain Tumors


Brain stem gliomas: Tumors in this location can be very challenging to treat. Most of these tumors are located in the middle of the brainstem and cannot be surgically removed, particularly the diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. A few brainstem tumors are more favorably located and can be treated with surgery. These are often treated with non-surgical methods.

Choroid plexus tumors: These tumors are found in the choroid plexus the part of the brain within the spaces in the brain, called ventricles, that makes cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds and cushions the brain and the spinal cord. These tumors can cause a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid, resulting in hydrocephalus. They can be benign or malignant, and often require surgery as part of the treatment.

Craniopharyngiomas are benign tumors that occur near the pituitary gland.

Dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors: These rare, benign tumors grow in the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord, and often cause seizures.

Ependymomas are another kind of glioma that forms from the cells that make, support, nourish, and line the ventricles . They require surgery plus radiation treatment in most cases.

Germ cell tumors: These tumors can be benign or malignant. They grow from germ cells, which form from eggs in women and sperm in men. During normal development of an embryo and fetus, germ cells usually become eggs or sperm.

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Access To Mental Health Care

“People are reluctant to ask for help just once, let alone having to ask for help getting there, too,” said Clairton clean air advocate, Melanie Meade.

Impoverished communities often lack mental health resources. Pennsylvania has approximately 220 mental health providers for every 100,000 peopleputting it in the bottom half of U.S. states for access to mental health care. Allegheny County has a better rate, with 349 providers per every 100,000 peoplebut those resources aren’t evenly distributed or equally accessible.

In Clairton, where 23% of residents live below the poverty line, the nearest hospital is about four miles away, but many residents don’t own cars and public transit is notoriously slow and unreliable.

“Clairton doesn’t have any immediate support here, so you have to have transportation out of here to get the help you need,” Meade, the Clairton clean air advocate, said. “People are reluctant to ask for help just once, let alone having to ask for help getting there, too.”

No one has studied potential links between air pollution and mental illness in Clairton, but studies have shown a near doubling in asthma exacerbations in the area following acute air pollution events, revealing a clear link between local air pollution and residents’ health. It’s likely that these fluctuations in air pollution are also impacting long- and short-term mental health in Clairton.

Banner photo: Melanie Meade outside of her home in Clairton, PA.

The Basics Of Brain Function

Before thinking about the problems that occur in the brain when someone has amental illness, it is helpful to think about how the brain functions normally.The brain is an incredibly complex organ. It makes up only 2 percent of our bodyweight, but it consumes 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe and 20 percent ofthe energy we take in. It controls virtually everything we as humans experience,including movement, sensing our environment, regulating our involuntary bodyprocesses such as breathing, and controlling our emotions. Hundreds of thousandsof chemical reactions occur every second in the brain those reactions underliethe thoughts, actions, and behaviors with which we respond to environmentalstimuli. In short, the brain dictates the internal processes and behaviors thatallow us to survive.

Scientists use a variety of imaging techniques to investigate brain structureand function.

Scientists believe that mental illnesses result from problems with thecommunication system in the brain.

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Dealing With Depression And Fatigue

The losses associated with a brain tumor can have a major impact on patients. A person who was the head of the household may lose the ability to work and to handle the familys financial matters. An independent individual may become unable to drive a car and suddenly find himself totally dependent on others. Such serious losses can lead to frustration, anger, and depression.

Depression is more than normal sadness it is a medical condition that produces visible symptoms. If left untreated, depression can suppress the immune system and lead to other health problems. Fortunately, depression is usually managed effectively with antidepressant medication. Talk therapy with a mental health counselor can also be of value.

Fatigue can severely limit a persons ability to function. It can be a side effect of depression. Fatigue can also be a side effect of treatment or a symptom of anemia.A physician can prescribe stimulants or other medication to combat fatigue. Also, exercise is helpful in restoring energy and overall vitality. It is important to consult with a doctor before starting an exercise regimen. By monitoring their energy levels during the day, patients can choose the times when they have the most energy to do tasks or activities that are more demanding.

Pituitary Disorders And Mental Health: Is There A Connection

Brain Tumor Update: What is Mental Illness?

For many, the answer to such questions or determining this distinction may not matter. Those suffering want the pain to go away. I have found that it is important for patients to be validated for the mental health symptoms that they know to exist. Hearing there is a connection between their mental health struggles their pituitary illness can be very comforting. Just because depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and more cant be seen on a MRI scan doesnt mean the pain or agony felt is not real. It can also be validating to know you are not alone and that others with similar tumors also have accompanying depression, suicidal thoughts, sadness, uncontrollable mood swings, irritability, anger and rages, intense anxiety, brain fog, poor concentration/memory, etc. All these have been documented as often, but not always, accompanying pituitary/endocrine disorders.

Mental health resources and organizations:
The National Alliance for Mental Illness:
The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy:
The American Psychological Association:
The National Association of Social Workers:
The National Institute of Mental Health:


  • Any Mental Illness Among Adults. . Retrieved October 22, 2015, from
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