Brain Cancer

Brain cancer is the formation of one or more cancerous (malignant) tumors within the brain. Cancer that originates in brain tissues is referred to as primary brain cancer, while cancer that originates somewhere else in the body and spreads (metastasizes) to the brain is known as metastatic brain cancer.

Causes of Brain Cancer

What exactly causes healthy cells in the brain to grow abnormally and become cancerous is not fully understood. However, scientists have identified several factors that may increase an individual’s chances of developing brain cancer:

  • Exposure to high amounts of iodizing radiation
  • A family history of brain cancer
  • Long-term exposure to fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides
  • Frequent workplace exposure to rubber, plastic, petroleum or lead
  • Smoking

Brain Cancer Symptoms

Brain cancer can trigger a wide array of symptoms based on the size and specific location of the tumor or tumors. Some of the most common symptoms of brain cancer include:

  • Persistent or severe headaches that are often worse in the morning
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A lack of balance or coordination
  • Muscle weakness, numbness or tingling sensations in the arms or legs
  • Blurry vision
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or remembering things
  • Speech problems
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in personality

Brain Cancer Diagnosis

Diagnosing brain cancer typically begins with a physical exam and review of your medical history, followed by:

  • A neurological exam to test for problems with vision, hearing, muscle strength, reflexes, alertness or coordination caused by abnormal pressure in the brain
  • An imaging procedure, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan, angiogram or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to locate the tumors within the brain
  • A procedure to collect a small amount of fluid that surrounds the brain (lumbar puncture) or a portion of the brain tumor (biopsy) and test it for cancer

Treatments for Brain Cancer

Multiple brain cancer treatments may be combined into a single treatment plan depending on the stage and location of a patient’s cancer. Surgery is often used to remove as much cancer as safely possible, along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to help destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Newer biologic therapies may also be used to impede the processes that contribute to brain tumor growth and slow the progression of disease.