What is brain cancer?

Brain cancer or brain tumor is a disease of the brain where malignant tumor grows and spreads in the brain cells. Such tumors are composed of cancerous cells, when noncancerous cells grow benign tumors.

Brain cancer statistics show that metastatic brain cancer is more common than primary brain tumors. Metastatic brain tumor occurs when cancer cells spread from another part of the body into the brain tissue.

Signs and symptoms

The most typical brain tumor symptoms are headaches, weakness, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, difficult walking, seizures, etc. Sometimes brain cancer may have few or no symptoms and only brain scan can tell you if you in danger or not and if you have a brain tumor.

Major causes

The causes of brain cancer – both metastatic and primary brain tumors are not fully explained. However, researches show that people with certain risk factors are more likely to experience brain cancer.

Specialists have identified the following brain cancer causes and risk factors:


  • Race – Brain cancer occurs more often in whites than in others. But here meningioma is an exception, as it is mostly found in blacks.
  • Age – The main sufferers of brain tumors are the people who are at their 45 or older, though brain cancer can be experienced at any age. And some types of brain tumors, like medulloblastomas, are found particularly in children.
  • Exposure to radiation – People who have been exposed to ionizing radiation are at greater risk of brain cancer. Radiation therapy applied in the cancer treatment can be shown as an example to ionizing radiation.
    Most common forms of radiation, like electromagnetic fields from power lines and radiofrequency radiation from cell phones and microwave ovens have not been exactly proven to cause brain tumors.
  • Chemical exposure – People working in certain industries such as agricultural, electrical, health care and oil refineries have more likely increased risk of brain cancer than others, though studies don’t always prove that.
  • Family history of brain tumors – A small percent of brain cancers is found in people with a family history of brain tumors. But heredity as a risk factor of brain cancer has not been proven yet.

Prevention

Today there are no certain proven strategies for prevention of brain cancer. However, you can minimize the risk of brain tumor if you know and avoid the abovementioned risk factors. But prevention does not fully guarantee that you will not develop brain cancer.

Prognosis and diagnosis

If you are suspected to have developed a brain tumor, you have to take a variety of tests and procedures according to a doctor’s recommendations:

  • A neurological exam – involves checking your hearing, vision, coordination, reflexes, etc.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging test (MRI) is mainly applied to help detect brain cancer. Thanks to magnetic fields and radio waves, MRI generates the necessary images of the brain.
  • A series of X-rays and other tests to diagnose cancer in other body organs – If a doctor suspects that your brain tumor may originate from cancer cells spread in another part of your body, he/she will recommend certain tests and procedures, for example a chest X-ray to find out the origin of the disease.
  • A biopsy – includes collecting and testing a sample of abnormal brain tissue.

Types of brain cancer

Brain tumors may have 2 types: primary and secondary. Primary brain tumors can also vary depending on the type of tissue where cancer starts. The most common forms are gliomas brain tumor that originate from the glial (supportive) tissue. Gliomas have the following types:

  • Astrocytomas – occur in small, star-shaped cells – astrocytes.
  • Brain stem gliomas – occur in the lowest, stemlike area of the brain.
  • Ependymomas – arise from the lining of the ventricles.
  • Oligodendrogliomas – develop in the cells which produce myelin, the fatty covering that provides the protection of nerves.

Besides Gliomas, there are also additional types of brain tumor like Medulloblastomas, Meningiomas, Schwannomas, Craniopharyngiomas and others.

Brain Cancer Facts

  • Each year above 200,000 people in the US is diagnosed with a primary or metastatic brain tumor.
  • Brain cancer is the main cause of solid tumor cancer death in children under 20, the second leading cause of cancer death in male adults ages 20-29 and the fifth major cause in female adults ages 20-39.
  • There are over 120 different types of brain tumors, which complicate proper treatment.
  • In cases of brain tumor, 69% of children survive, though they are usually left with long-term side effects.

By Leo