The National Brain Tumor Society recognizes May as Brain Tumor Awareness Month. The purpose of this designation is to raise awareness, increase the public’s knowledge, and encourage the tools needed to take appropriate action. A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in the brain or central nervous system, which includes the spinal cord. Tumors may be cancerous or non-cancerous (non-malignant). There are more than 120 different types of primary tumors of the brain or central nervous system. A primary tumor is one that originates in the brain. Other tumors that develop in the brain may be the result of cancer that has spread from another area of the body. Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can cause serious symptoms. They can affect the brain’s ability to function normally.
Brain tumors can affect people of all ages, sexes, and ethnicities. Most of the time, the cause of brain tumors is unknown. A small percentage of patients may have a family history of tumors that may be genetic. Environmental risk factors for brain tumors include exposure to certain chemicals or exposure to ionizing radiation, the type frequently found in x-rays.
Symptoms of brain tumors vary depending on their location in the brain, their size, and their rate of growth. Patients may experience headaches, changes in vision, nausea, problems with balance, speech difficulties, behavior or personality changes, confusion, and seizures.
A physician may perform a comprehensive neurological exam. Tumors are generally confirmed through the use of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and sometimes a CT scan.
There are many different types of non-cancerous, or benign, brain tumors. They typically grow slowly and do not spread to surrounding tissue. Although growth rate is slow, they can become large enough to cause symptoms. The physician may decide that a small tumor may just be regularly monitored to assess its growth. Larger tumors may be removed by a neurosurgeon or treated with radiation to shrink the tumor.
Cancerous tumors account for approximately one third of brain tumors. These malignant tumors usually grow faster and are more aggressive than non-cancerous tumors. Cancerous tumors are graded as I, II, III, or IV, depending on the abnormal cells contained in them. A Grade I tumor is the least serious. They grow more slowly. Grade IV tumors are the most malignant. They grow at a rapid rate and spread into nearby normal tissue. These tumors will form new blood vessels to support their growth.
Following diagnosis, a needle biopsy may be performed to collect a sample of the abnormal tissue. A lab then views the tissue to determine whether it is cancerous or non-cancerous. Surgery may be recommended if the tumor is located in an easily accessible place. The neurosurgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible. Total removal of the tumor may be risky, depending on its location and whether it can be separated from surrounding tissue. The surgeon may be able to offer a minimally invasive procedure, if appropriate. These procedures often reduce the length of hospitalization and recovery time for the patient. Radiation therapy may be used to kill the tumor cells. Side effects of radiation may include fatigue, memory loss, and headaches. Radiosurgery procedures, such as a Gamma knife, are focused radiation treatments used to kill tumor cells. Chemotherapy can be used to treat cancerous brain tumors.
The neurosurgeons at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experienced in diagnosing and treating tumors of the brain and central nervous system. Dr. David M. Benglis, Jr., a Board Certified Neurosurgeon, specializes in the treatment of both brain and spinal tumors.