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​​​What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the brain or central spine that can disrupt proper brain function. Physicians refer to a tumor based on where the tumor cells originated, and whether they are cancerous, malignant, or not, benign.

  • Benign is the least aggressive type of brain tumor, originating from cells within or surrounding the brain. They do not contain cancer cells, grow slowly, and typically have clear borders that do no spread into other tissue.
  • Malignant tumors are considered to be life threatening because they grow rapidly and invade surrounding brain tissue. Malignant tumors contain cancer cells and often do not have clear borders.
  • Primary are tumors that start in cells of the brain and may spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine, but rarely to other organs.
  • Metastatic are brain tumors that begin in another part of the body and then spread to the brain. These tumors are more common than primary brain tumors and are names by the location in which they begin.

There are well over 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors. Brain and spinal cord tumors are different for everyone; they form in different areas, develop from different cell types and may have different treatment options.


What are the symptoms of brain tumors?

Brain tumor symptoms can vary according to the type of tumor and the location. Because different areas of the brain control different functions of the body, where the tumor lies affect the way symptoms are displayed. There are times a patient may have no symptoms when their brain tumor is discovered. Symptoms can include:

  • Recurrent headaches
  • Issues with vision
  • Seizures
  • Changes in personality
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty speaking or comprehending


How are brain tumors diagnosed?

Diagnosing a brain tumor can be a complicated process. The physician starts by asking questions about your symptoms and taking a personal and family health history. A physical exam will be performed, including a neurological exam. If the physician suspects a brain tumor, he or she may request one or more of the following tests:

  • Imaging studies such as a CT scan or MRI to see detailed images of the brain
  • Angiogram or MRA, which involves the use of dye and X-rays of blood vessels in the brain to look for signs of a tumor or abnormal blood vessels.

Your physician may ask for a biopsy to determine whether or not the tumor is cancerous. A tissue sample is removed from the brain either during surgery to remove the tumor or with a needle inserted through a small hole drilled into the skull before treatment is started. The sample is sent to a lab for testing.


How are brain tumors treated?

Surgery to remove the tumor is typically the first option once a brain tumor has been diagnosed. There are some tumors that cannot be surgically removed because of where they are located in the brain. In those cases, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be options for killing and shrinking the tumor. Sometimes there are also used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. 

Because treatment for cancer can damage healthy tissue, it's important to discuss possible side and long-term effects of whatever treatment is being used with your physician. He or she will explain the risk and the possibility of losing certain faculties and explain the importance of planning for rehabilitation following treatment. Rehabilitation could involve working with several different therapists including:

  • Physical therapist to regain strength and balance
  • Speech therapist to address problems with speaking, expressing thoughts or swallowing
  • Occupational therapist to help manage daily activities such as using the bathroom, bathing, and dressing