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The Basics of Brain Tumors

A brain tumor can be one of the scariest diagnoses possible, bringing with it uncertainty and many complex choices about how to treat it. But not all brain tumors are created equal, and many people diagnosed with them make a full recovery when the tumor is detected early.

Knowing your options is one of the best ways to give yourself a good chance of a favorable outcome. While only a doctor with the right equipment can diagnose a brain tumor, knowing the symptoms and types can help people identify health issues as a possible sign of a tumor.

What Is a Brain Tumor?

A brain tumor is a described as a mass of abnormal cells in the brain. Some are malignant or cancerous, while others are benign and grow more slowly. While some can be more dangerous than others, all have the potential to press on the brain and impact function, causing a host of symptoms.

Primary brain tumors are those that emerge from the tissues of the brain or its immediate surroundings. They can be either benign or malignant and are either composed of glial cells or other substances such as nerves, glands, or blood vessels.

Secondary brain tumors originate from cancer in another part of the body. This is the result of cancer metastasizing from its original form and leads to a much faster spread that can be hard to contain. Detecting this as early as possible is key to maximizing the chances of survival, but someone with pre-existing cancer will likely be under closer monitoring.

Different Types

Gliomas are one of the most common brain tumors and are the most common primary brain tumor. It’s known for being lethal, with most patients surviving up to fifteen months. However, a host of treatment options are available including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.

Meningiomas are more common but aren’t technically brain tumors. They form in the membranes that line the skull and spinal column. While they’re less deadly than gliomas, they often grow more slowly and can impact the senses and memory or cause seizures or headaches. While many of them are benign, they can affect the quality of life and are removed using surgery or radiation.

Astrocytomas are primary tumors that grow in star-shaped cells named astrocytes, which means they originate in the cerebrum. They come in different grades, with some growing more aggressively than others. They also have a higher survival rate than gliomas and are treated using surgery followed up by chemotherapy or radiation. Chronic headaches are usually the first sign of astrocytoma.

Metastatic brain tumors are the most common tumor and evolve from existing cancer. So why is this type of brain tumor growing so fast? The main contributing factor is that we’re getting better at helping people survive initial cancer—which means they’re more vulnerable to a recurrence.

Meningioma is the Most Common

Why is meningioma the most common brain tumor? The often benign tumor growing in the membranes around the skull and spinal column accounts for 30 percent of all cases. It can grow in many different places and can be hard to detect unless it grows to a size that causes major symptoms.

There are six key origin spots for meningiomas in the brain, and their symptoms depend on their size and their location. Thankfully, many of them grow slowly and don’t spread, which means once they’re diagnosed, doctors may often decide against surgery and choose to monitor the tumor for signs of trouble instead.

Treatment Options

When you’re diagnosed with a brain tumor, your doctor will explore treatment options with you. The possibilities will depend on the size and location of your tumor, as well as its impact on your quality of life.

Surgery is commonly used to treat brain tumors, and when done correctly it can remove all traces of the tumor and make a recurrence unlikely. This is not without risk, as the surgery can remove healthy brain tissue, but doctors will advise surgery when there is a good chance of removing the tumor successfully without causing any deficits.

Radiation and chemotherapy are effective options to treat tumors that can’t be surgically removed or to eliminate traces of cancer after surgery to prevent a recurrence. While the use of radiation or chemical cocktails can cause negative side effects when it damages healthy cells, it may make a recurrence less likely.

Prevention is the Best Cure

The best way to increase the chance of a successful outcome is to detect a brain tumor early. A visit to a doctor at the first sign of trouble can save a life. Small tumors can often be contained, treated, or removed with few complications.

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