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How Does Brain Cancer Start

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What’s The Outlook For People With A Brain Tumor

Why Do So Many People Get Cancer?

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.

How Do Clinical Trials Work For Brain Tumors

Clinical trials for brain tumors evaluate ways to improve quality of life and assess new therapies, including immunotherapies that harness the bodys own immune system. Clinical trials also evaluate new combinations of treatments and can provide hope for those with more aggressive tumors or cancer that has returned.

New treatments only proceed to clinical trials if they show promise and an expectation of safety. While we evaluate everyone we see for potential participation in a brain cancer clinical trial, we never want you to feel like a test subject. Our clinical trials team spends the time to answer all your questions, including those covering potential risks and benefits.

What Tests Do Doctors Use To Diagnose Brain Cancer

The initial test is an interview that includes a medical history and physical examination of the person by a health care provider. The results of this interaction will determine if other specific tests need to be done.

The most frequently used test to detect brain cancer is a CT scan . This test resembles a series of X-rays and is not painful, although sometimes a dye needs to be injected into a vein for better images of some internal brain structures. Another test that is gaining popularity because of its high sensitivity for detecting anatomic changes in the brain is MRI . This test also shows the brain structures in detail better than CT. If the tests show evidence of brain cancer, then other doctors such as neurosurgeons and neurologists that specialize in treating brain ailments will be consulted to help determine what should be done to treat the patient. Occasionally, a tissue sample may be obtained by surgery or insertion of a needle to help determine the diagnosis. Other tests may be ordered by the health care practitioner to help determine the patient’s state of health or to detect other health problems. These tests help differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous conditions in the brain that may produce similar symptoms .

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Cell Changes And Cancer

All cancers begin in cells. Our bodies are made up of more than a hundred million million cells. Cancer starts with changes in one cell or a small group of cells.

Usually, we have just the right number of each type of cell. This is because cells produce signals to control how much and how often the cells divide. If any of these signals are faulty or missing, cells might start to grow and multiply too much and form a lump called a tumour.

A primary tumour is where the cancer starts. Some types of cancer, called leukaemia , start from blood cells. They don’t form solid tumours. Instead, the cancer cells build up in the blood and sometimes the bone marrow

For a cancer to start, certain changes take place within the genes of a cell or a group of cells.

What Is The Brain

Where Does A Brain Tumor Start

The brain is the organ in a person’s skull that controls the functions of all of the other organs. Together, the brain and spine make up the central nervous system. The brain is responsible for the experience of the five senses . The brain is where thought, language, personality, creativity, and memory are controlled. The brain controls movement, sensation, balance, and coordination. In order to do its job, the brain needs oxygen and nutrient energy that a person takes in regularly.

The brain is made up of nerve cells , which carry signals, and the cells that support these nerve cells . There are a number of different types of glial cells, all with different names and functions. The glial cells outnumber the neurons in the brain by a ratio of 10:1.

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What Causes A Brain Tumor

Doctors are not sure what causes most brain tumors. Mutations or defects in genes may cause cells in the brain to grow uncontrollably, causing a tumor.

The only known environmental cause of brain tumors is having exposure to large amounts of radiation from X-rays or previous cancer treatment. Some brain tumors occur when hereditary conditions are passed down among family members.

Our Approach To Brain Tumor

As one of the largest and most comprehensive brain tumor programs in the U.S., we are committed to providing the best possible outcomes and quality of life to our patients. We offer the latest treatments and techniques, such as brain mapping during surgery to protect brain function and radiosurgery, a nonsurgical treatment that delivers high radiation doses to a precise target in the brain. Our patients also have access to clinical trials evaluating promising new treatments, and to supportive care and resources for themselves and their families.

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How Else Can I Reduce My Risk For Cancer

  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker’s Quitline at or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

Chemotherapy And Radiation Therapy

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You may be given chemotherapy drugs to destroy cancer cells in your brain and to shrink your tumor. Chemotherapy drugs may be given orally or intravenously.

Radiation therapy may be recommended to destroy tumor tissue or cancer cells that cant be surgically removed. This is done with high-energy waves, such as X-rays.

Sometimes, you may need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time. Chemotherapy may also be done after radiation treatment.

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Diagnosis Of Brain Cancer

If a brain tumour is suspected, the doctor may check how different parts of the brain are functioning by checking your reflexes, muscle strength, balance and coordination, ability to feel pin-pricks and to distinguish between hot and cold. An opthalmoscope is used to view the optic nerve, which may bulge if the pressure in the skull is raised, for example by a tumour.

The main tests for brain cancer diagnosis are:

How Is A Diagnosis Made

First, the doctor will obtain your personal and family medical history and perform a complete physical examination. In addition to checking your general health, the doctor performs a neurological exam to check mental status and memory, cranial nerve function , muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, and response to pain. Additional tests may include:

  • Audiometry, a hearing test performed by an audiologist, detects hearing loss due to tumors near the cochlear nerve .
  • An endocrine evaluation measures hormone levels in your blood or urine to detect abnormal levels caused by pituitary tumors .
  • A visual field acuity test is performed by a neuro-ophthalmologist to detect vision loss and missing areas in your field of view.
  • A lumbar puncture may be performed to examine cerebrospinal fluid for tumor cells, proteins, infection, and blood.

Imaging tests


Biomarkers or genetic mutations found in the tumor may help determine prognosis. These include: IDH1, IDH2, MGMT, and 1p/19q co-deletion.

Figure 4.

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After A Diagnosis Of Brain Cancer

After finding out you have brain cancer, you may feel shocked, upset, anxious or confused. These are normal responses. A diagnosis of brain cancer affects each person differently. For most it will be a difficult time, however some people manage to continue with their normal daily activities.

Your specialist will arrange for a range of health professionals to plan your treatment. This will be based on several factors including the type, size, location and genetic make-up of the cancer as well as, your age and general health, the types of symptoms you have and your needs and preferences.

Find out more about the best cancer care for brain cancer:

What Side Effects Does Chemotherapy Cause When Treating Brain Tumors

Brain Tumors: Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms, Types &  treatment options

Many people have heard of the side effects chemotherapy can cause when treating other cancers nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, etc. But a number of the brain cancer chemotherapy drugs we use are a little different and may not cause such severe side effects. Your team will discuss the possibilities with you before you commit to a treatment plan.

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Other Types Of Brain Tumors

  • Hemangioblastomas are slow-growing tumors, commonly located in the cerebellum. They originate from blood vessels, can be large in size and often are accompanied by a cyst. These tumors are most common in people ages 40 to 60 and are more prevalent in men than women.
  • Rhabdoid tumors are rare, highly aggressive tumors that tend to spread throughout the central nervous system. They often appear in multiple sites in the body, especially in the kidneys. They are more prevalent in young children, but also can occur in adults.

What Are The Side Effects Of Brain Cancer Treatment

    Side effects of brain cancer treatment vary with the treatment plan and the overall health status of the patient. Most treatment plans try to keep all side effects to a minimum. For some patients, the side effects of brain cancer treatment can be severe. Treatment plans should include a discussion of potential side effects and the likelihood of them developing, so the patient and their caregivers can make appropriate treatment decisions in conjunction with their medical team. Also, if side effects develop, the patient has some knowledge of what to do about them such as when to take certain medicines or when to call their doctor to report health changes.

    Surgical side effects include an increase in current symptoms, damage to normal brain tissue, brain swelling, and seizures. Other symptoms of changes in brain function such as muscle weakness, mental changes, and decreases in any brain-controlled function can occur. Combinations of these side effects may happen. The side effects are most noticeable shortly after surgery but frequently decline over time. Occasionally, the side effects do not go away.

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    Brain And Spinal Cord Tumors

    There are different types of brain and spinal cord tumors. These tumors are named based on the type of cell in which they formed and where the tumor first formed in the central nervous system. For example, an astrocytic tumor begins in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, which help keep nerve cells healthy. Brain tumors can be benign or malignant .

    Grading Primary Brain Tumors

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    Most cancer centers that treat brain tumors use a grading system developed by the World Health Organization. A tumor’s grade is determined by looking at cells from the tumor under a microscope. Tumor grading is important because it is one factor that helps doctors decide how to treat a tumor.

    Grade I and II tumors are typically considered low grade. They look more normal under the microscope, are less likely to spread, and are easier to treat. Grade III and IV tumors are considered high grade. They grow more quickly and are harder to treat. Over time, some low-grade tumors become high-grade tumors.

    Here is more specific information on tumor grades:

    • Grade I. These tumors are considered to be benign and slow growing. They may be treated with surgery and they rarely come back. You can often expect long-term survival.

    • Grade II. These tumors are considered to be cancer, but they grow slowly. They are less likely to spread. But they may come back after treatment.

    • Grade III. These tumors are cancer and tend to spread to other parts of the brain. They may come back as grade IV after treatment.

    • Grade IV. These are the most malignant tumors. They grow and spread most rapidly. They are least likely to be cured.

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    What Are The Different Types Of Brain Tumors

    The different types of brain tumors include the following:

  • Primitive neuroectodermal tumors . PNET can occur anywhere in the brain of a child, although the most common place is in the back of the brain near the cerebellum. When they occur here, they are called medulloblastomas. The symptoms depend on their location in the brain, but typically the child experiences increased intracranial pressure. These tumors are fast growing and often malignant, with occasional spreading throughout the brain or spinal cord.
  • Medulloblastomas. Medulloblastomas are one type of PNET that are found near the midline of the cerebellum. This tumor is rapidly growing and often blocks drainage of the CSF , causing symptoms associated with increased ICP. Medulloblastoma cells can spread to other areas of the central nervous system, especially around the spinal cord. A combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy is usually needed to control these tumors.
  • Craniopharyngiomas. Craniopharyngiomas are benign tumors that occur at the base of the brain near the nerves from the eyes to the brain, and the hormone centers. Most occur in children and young adults, but can develop at any age. Symptoms include headaches, as well as problems with vision. Hormonal imbalances are common, including poor growth and short stature. Symptoms of increased intracranial pressure may also be seen. Although these tumors are benign, they are hard to remove due to the sensitive brain structures that surround them.
  • Symptoms Of A Brain Tumour

    The symptoms of a brain tumour vary depending on the exact part of the brain affected.

    Common symptoms include:

    • persistently feeling sick , being sick and drowsiness
    • mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality
    • progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
    • vision or speech problems

    Sometimes you may not have any symptoms to begin with, or they may develop very slowly over time.

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    Alternative And Complementary Approaches

    Alternative and complementary approaches may help tumor patients better cope with their diagnosis and treatment. Some of these therapies, however, may be harmful if used during or after cancer treatment and should be discussed in advance with a doctor. Common approaches include nutritional and herbal supplements, vitamins, special diets, and mental or physical techniques to reduce stress.

    What Are The Symptoms

    How Primary, Metastatic Tumors Differ In Brain Cancer

    Tumors can affect the brain by destroying normal tissue, compressing normal tissue, or increasing intracranial pressure. Symptoms vary depending on the tumorâs type, size, and location in the brain . General symptoms include:

    • headaches that tend to worsen in the morning
    • seizures
    • speech problems
    • vision problems, abnormal eye movements
    • weakness on one side of the body
    • increased intracranial pressure, which causes drowsiness, headaches, nausea and vomiting, sluggish responses

    Figure 2.

    Specific symptoms include:

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    When To See A Doctor

    If youve been diagnosed with cancer elsewhere in your body and you start to experience strong headaches, tell your doctor. The cancer may have spread to your brain. Be ready to describe all your symptoms in detail. The nature of your headaches will help your physician make a better treatment plan.

    If you have no cancer history, see your doctor or a neurologist if a headache lasts for several days or weeks with little or no relief.

    A headache that continues to worsen with no response to traditional pain treatment should also be evaluated. Weight loss, muscle numbness, and sensory changes that accompany a headache should be checked promptly, too.

    Brain Cancer Support Groups Information And Counseling

    Living with cancer presents many new challenges for the patient and their family and friends.

    • Patients have many worries about how the cancer will affect them and their ability to “live a normal life,” that is, to care for family and home, to hold a job, and to continue friendships and activities.
    • Many people feel anxious and depressed. Some people feel angry and resentful others feel helpless and defeated.

    For most people with cancer, talking about their feelings and concerns helps.

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    Resources For More Information

    National Brain Tumor Society

    Aim to improve understanding of all brain tumors and transform research into new and effective treatments, as quickly as possible. Offers brain tumor information, related news, and a blog.

    American Brain Tumor Association

    Providing comprehensive resources that support the complex needs of brain tumor patients and caregivers, as well as the critical funding of research in the pursuit of breakthroughs in brain tumor diagnosis, treatment, and care.

    Brain Science Foundation

    Dedicated to finding a cure for meningioma and other primary brain tumors and to advancing the understanding of brain function as it relates to these tumors. Offers information on a variety of types of brain tumors as well as research initiatives.

    How Long Does A Brain Tumor Take To Grow

    Why Cancers Spread to the Brain

    Many brain tumors grow slowly, particularly benign brain tumors. Some benign tumors may be safely monitored by a medical team for months or even years rather than being immediately removed with surgery. Many malignant tumors, though, are more aggressive and fast-growing and likely need prompt treatment.

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