In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about brain cancer.
Brain cancer is a malignant tumor that originates at the level of the brain or spinal cord. An estimated 23,820 individuals will present with brain cancer in the US this year. About 13,410 of them will be of the male sex, and the rest will be women. These statistics refer to primary brain cancers, meaning those that first appear in the brain and not those that spread from different parts of our body. Brain cancer accounts for almost 90% of all primary tumors of the CNS. It also affects children and adolescents. The brain is a frequent organ in which other cancers metastasize. The following types are the most common ones regarding metastasis to that part of the body:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
This article will focus on primary cancer of the brain, its symptoms, risk factors, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. The 5-year survival rate of those with brain malignancy is 34% and 36% for men and women, respectively. Brain cancer, along with other CNS tumors, is the 10th leading cause of death for both sexes. Annual data suggest that an estimated 17,760 people will die due to brain cancer and other types of CNS malignancies this year in the US.
Risk factors for brain cancer
Risk factors are certain behaviors, characteristics, or events that may increase your chances of developing a disease. Cancers are relatable to genetics and lifestyle. The following are some of the most well-established risk factors for brain and CNS cancers.
- Age. Brain tumors are more prevalent in age extremes. Therefore, a child or an older adult are more likely to present with CNS cancer, when compared to people belonging in different age groups.
- Sex. Generally speaking, male sex is more vulnerable to brain cancer than females. However, this is not the rule. Certain types of brain tumors, such as meningiomas, are more prevalent in women.
- Race and ethnicity. Statistics differ according to your race, ethnicity, and geographic department. White people in the US are more likely to develop gliomas when compared to black people. However, the latter group has more chances to present with a meningioma. Accordingly, Japanese people are less likely to develop brain cancer when compared to northern Europeans.
- Chemicals exposure. Certain compounds increase your likelihood of developing brain and other CNS tumors. For example, some studies suggest that dietary N-nitroso compounds may increase your risk of developing the disease.
- Family history. An estimated 5% of all brain cancer cases appear in people with the following hereditary conditions:
1. Li-Fraumeni syndrome
3. Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome
4. Tuberous sclerosis
5. Turcot syndrome
6. Von Hippel-Lindau disease
- Head injury. Certain studies suggest a relationship between head trauma and the development of meningiomas. The same doesn’t stand for gliomas. Further research is necessary.
- Seizures. Scientists and researchers correlate a history of seizures with the likelihood of developing a brain tumor. However, the other way around is also possible. Some brain tumors finally lead to seizures. Scientists are not sure of which theory is more accurate or if anti-seizure medication also plays a role.
- Exposure to viruses and pathogens. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) both seem to increase the risk for certain types of brain and CNS tumors. Studies on animals implicated other pathogens as well. Another research showed a lower risk of glioma in those with skin allergies and conditions.
- Ionizing radiation. Treatment-related ionizing radiation, including x-rays, is a risk factor for brain and CNS tumors.
- Electromagnetic fields. Although electromagnetic fields showed no relationship between brain cancer and the risk of developing one in adults, the data is inconclusive regarding children.
What are the symptoms and signs of brain cancer?
People with a brain tumor may be symptomatic or asymptomatic. Sometimes, their symptoms may be due to another medical condition. Signs of brain cancer may be general, which is a challenging part of the diagnosis, or specific, indicating a brain tumor.
Headache. One of the most common general symptoms of brain cancer is a headache. They may be severe in intensity and worsen upon activity. Sometimes, they are unbearable in the early morning.
Seizures. Another sign of a potential brain tumor is seizures. They can present in different types. The two most common ones are myoclonic and Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal). Myoclonic seizures present as muscle twitches, spasms, or jerks. They can be single or multiple. Tonic-Clonic seizures are more severe. They lead to loss of consciousness and muscle tone due to violent contractions. They may lead to apnea for more than thirty seconds, causing blue skin discoloration. The individual experiencing Tonic-Clonic seizures may also lose control of their body functions, such as the bladder. Sensory or complex partial are two more types of seizures.
Other general symptoms include some of the following:
- Fatigue, nausea, and vomiting
- Personality changes
- Memory changes
- Sleep disorders
A tumor in the cerebellum will interfere with a person’s fine movements, coordination, and balance. A frontal lobe tumor will lead to cognitive changes and difficulties regarding an individual’s judgment. The occipital lobe or temporal lobe involvement may lead to visual disturbances. Accordingly, a frontal and temporal lobe tumor may interfere with speech or hearing, as well as emotional state. Pituitary tumors may present with lactation or menstruation disturbances in women. Acromegaly is another condition related to tumors in the hypophysis. The examples are many. If you experience any sudden changes in your body or the way you perceive things, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment options for brain cancer
Your treatment will depend on the stage of your disease, your medical history, and your overall health and comorbidities. After you receive a positive diagnosis for brain cancer, you and your physician will have to choose one of the following therapeutic methods or a combination of some of them.
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Alternating electrical field therapy
Some tumors may be responsive to pharmacological treatments, while others may be sensitive to radiation. Some types of cancers may need radical solutions, such as surgery. Finally, a combination of methods may be necessary, as well. For example, some types of tumors may require radiation therapy to decrease their size, followed by surgery to extract the cancerous tissue.