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June 8th is World Brain Tumor Day

World Brain Tumor day is observed on Jun 10th every year, across the world with an aim to spread awareness on a brain tumor. Tumor or cancer simply means growth. Sometimes it is self-contained and in some cases, it may be uncontrolled and spread to other areas of the body. So basically, a brain tumor is a condition that is characterized by a mass of tissue or abnormal or uncontrolled growth of cells in the brain due to abnormal cell division.

While in most cases there is no way to prevent a brain tumor/cancer, the good news is that early detection of the condition may help to treat the symptoms or worsening of the conditions to extremes. Thus it is important to take good care of your overall brain health and avoid risk factors (read on).

Causes of Brain Tumor:

There are very few tumors for which the exact cause is known as in the case of some viral origin tumors. However, for most tumors including brain tumor, there are certain risk factors that increase their incidence although exact causes cannot be attributed to them. Some of these risk factors are:

a. Exposure to radiation

b. Certain genetic disorders

c. A weakened immune system

d. A family history of such tumors

e. Exposure to certain harmful chemicals, like vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, and acrylonitrile.

Symptoms of a Brain Tumor:

1. Headaches: The most common and early sign is a headache. It tends to be quite intense and usually occurs in the morning. If a headache is of new onset and persists for a long duration and is not responding to generally available analgesics, then it should certainly be evaluated for a brain tumor.

2. Seizures: Seizures or fits as they are commonly known, are mainly due to changes in or obstruction to the nerve conduction or current flow in the brain. People with seizures might experience other problems such as loss of memory, difficulty while speaking, confused state of mind, etc.

3. Vision and Hearing disturbances: Blurred vision or hearing problems may occur due to the swelling in the brain resulting in pressure inside the skull on the nerves that conduct impulses to the eyes and the ears or on the blood flow to these organs.

4. Vomiting: Vomiting, especially in the morning and without nausea, can be a symptom of a brain tumor.

Signs of a Brain Tumor: 

a. Weakness in legs, arms and face muscles

b. Confusion or memory problems

c. Changes in speech

d. Visual field defects

e. Paralysis

Types of Brain Tumor:

Brain tumors can be classified as benign or malignant. Benign tumors are generally encapsulated and limited to a small area. The problems caused by a benign tumor are mainly due to pressure on the sensitive parts of the brain. Since they may grow to a large size, they can be life-threatening. Benign tumors do not invade or spread to other areas of the body. In rare cases, benign tumors may turn malignant.

Malignant tumors are what we commonly refer to as cancers. The growth tends to be uneven and uncontrolled and may spread to other parts of the brain and to other parts of the body as well.

Tests for a Brain Tumor:

When suspected, apart from a detailed history and evaluation by a physician, the following may be suggested:
1. Thorough neurologic exam: A doctor checks for any problems with senses such as vision, hearing, sensation, etc and conduct tests for muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, eye movements, etc.

2. MRI: MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a radiological technique to get pictures of the brain anatomy and physiological processes of the body. MRI scanners use the strong magnetic field, radio waves and field gradients to generate images of the organs in the body. There is no exposure to X-ray radiation with an MRI.

3. CT scan: Another radiological technique to visualize anatomy clearly is a CT scan (computed tomography). A CT scan uses x-rays linked to a computer to take a series of detailed pictures of your head. Sometimes, contrast material may be injected into a blood vessel in your arm or hand. The contrast material makes abnormal areas easier to see.

4. Angiogram: In this procedure, a dye is injected into the bloodstream, which helps blood vessels in the brain to show up on an x-ray. If a tumor is present, the x-ray may show the tumor or blood vessels that are feeding into the tumor.

5. Spinal tap: In this test, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that fills the spaces in and around the brain and spinal cord) is removed. A pathology laboratory checks the fluid for cancer cells or other signs of problems.

6. Biopsy: The removal of tissue to look for tumor cells is called a biopsy. A pathologist will check the cells using a microscope to check for abnormal cells. A biopsy can show cancer, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, and other conditions. It may be performed prior to or after resection of the tumor. It may be the only sure way to identify the exact nature of a malignant tumor and helps in planning treatment.

Treatment for Brain Tumor:

Treatment of a brain tumor is based on many factors, such as:

1. Age, overall health, and medical history

2. The type, location, and size of the tumor

3. How likely is the tumor to spread /recur

4. Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

5. Treatment may include antiepileptic drugs or anti-seizure drugs, steroids, other drugs to relieve pressure in the skull, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy

Written by MedPlus