Brain Tumor

Parts of the brain: cerebellum, ventricle, meninges, cerabrum, pituitary, and brainstem

Your body makes new cells to replace old or damaged ones all the time. A tumor starts when cells change (mutate) and start to grow out of control. The changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Tumors can be cancer (malignant) or not cancer (benign). You have been seen today for a possible brain tumor. But more testing and follow-up may be needed to diagnose the type of tumor and to plan the best treatment.

  • A benign tumor will stay where it first started and tends to grow slowly.

  • A malignant tumor can grow into nearby tissues and tends to grow faster. Most cancers can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancers that start in the brain rarely do this. But they can spread to other parts of the brain.

Types of brain tumors

A primary brain tumor is one that starts in cells that make up the brain. It may be benign or malignant. At this time, scientists don’t know what causes primary brain tumors.

A metastatic brain tumor comes from cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the brain. These are the most common kind of brain tumor.

Either type of tumor can damage the brain by spreading through it, or by pressing on and squeezing the brain inside the skull. Because of this, any type of brain tumor can be dangerous, because it can grow large enough to affect different parts of the brain.

These are the most common primary brain tumors:

  • Glioma. This type of tumor is most often cancer (malignant). It tends to grow fast.

  • Meningioma. This type of tumor is usually benign. But it can cause problems. This depends on how big it is and where it is in the brain.

There are many other types of brain tumors that are less common.

How are brain tumors diagnosed?

Most brain tumors cause headaches, vision changes, and balance problems. Behavior may change. These problems lead a person to seek medical care.

If a brain tumor is suspected, the first test done is often imaging with an MRI of the brain. If an MRI can't be done, a CT scan might be done. These tests give a clear picture of the brain and nearby tissue.

A small piece (sample) of tumor tissue (biopsy) is often needed. The sample is taken during surgery. The sample is tested to find out what kind of brain tumor it is and how fast it's growing.

How are brain tumors treated?

There are a lot of different ways to treat brain tumors. You will talk with your treatment team to decide on the best treatment plan for you. Your options depend on things like the kind of tumor you have, where the tumor is, how fast it's growing, problems it's causing, and your preferences.

Most brain tumors need to be treated right away. Surgery is done to treat most primary brain tumors. Sometimes radiation therapy or chemotherapy are done after surgery. Other treatments may be used. These depend on the kind of tumor.

A brain tumor may cause other problems such as nausea, headaches, seizures, or brain swelling. These problems are also treated.

Home care

You can do your normal activities as you feel up to it. But if you've had a seizure or fainted, you should not drive, take baths alone, or swim until your healthcare provider says it’s safe. Take any seizure medicine as directed to help prevent another episode.

If you have headaches or nauseas, use the medicines you are given.

Follow-up care

It's important to follow up with your healthcare provider or a specialist as directed. If you're having seizures, don't drive or operate dangerous equipment until you're cleared by your provider.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • New seizures or seizures that keep happening

  • Repeated vomiting

  • You feel less alert or it’s hard to wake you up

  • New changes to your vision, speech, or hearing

  • Weakness on one side of your body or loss of coordination and balance

  • Severe headache

  • Confusion

  • Trouble thinking, speaking, or getting your words out

Ask your healthcare provider whom you should call and what number you should use if you have problems at home. Be sure you know how to get help anytime, including after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

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