Understanding Brain Cancer

By: Amanda Stadtlander

Fundamentals

Types


Brain tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the brain.

  • Although such growths are popularly called brain tumors, not all brain tumors are cancer. Cancer is a term reserved for malignant tumors.

  • Malignant tumors can grow and spread aggressively, overpowering healthy cells by taking their space, blood, and nutrients. They can also spread to distant parts of the body. Like all cells of the body, tumor cells need blood and nutrients to survive.

  • Tumors that do not invade nearby tissue or spread to distant areas are called benign.

In general, a benign tumor is less serious than a malignant tumor. But a benign tumor can still cause many problems in the brain by pressing on nearby tissue.

Causes

As with tumors elsewhere in the body, the exact cause of most brain cancer is unknown. Genetic factors, various environmental toxins, radiation to the head, HIV infection, and cigarette smoking have all been linked to cancers of the brain. In most cases, no clear cause can be shown.

Symptoms

  • Headaches, usually worse in the morning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in your ability to talk, hear, or see
  • Problems with balance or walking
  • Problems with thinking or memory
  • Muscle jerking or twitching
  • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs

Prevention

Although there is no way to prevent brain cancers, early diagnosis and treatment of tumors is the best way to avert brain cancer

Who is affected?

Brain cancer affects adults of all ages, races, and genders and is one of the few cancers that occur in children.
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Diagnosis

How are brain tumors found?

  • Neurological examination – such as checking your muscle strength, reflexes, memory and your ability to tell hot from cold on your skin (sensation tests)
  • Eye test – the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, tends to bulge a little if a tumor is present
  • CT scan – three dimensional x-rays. A dye will be injected or swallowed if you are having a full body scan, so that anything unusual will show more clearly
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – similar to a CT scan, but magnetism instead of x-rays is used to create a picture. This test will almost certainly show up any brain tumor
  • X-rays and blood tests – to test your general health
  • Angiogram – injected dye is x-rayed as it flows through the blood vessels of your brain. This is not done for all types of brain tumors.

Treatment Options

Surgery

Surgical therapy attempts to remove all of the tumor cells by cutting the tumor away from normal brain tissue. This surgery is often termed invasive surgery to distinguish it from noninvasive radio surgery or radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy attempts to destroy tumor cells by using high-energy radiation focused onto the tumor to destroy the tumor cells' ability to function and replicate. Radio surgery is a nonsurgical procedure that delivers a single high dose of precisely targeted radiation using highly focused gamma-ray or X-ray beams that converge on the specific area or areas of the brain where the tumor or other abnormality is located, minimizing the amount of radiation to healthy brain tissue.
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Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy attempts to destroy tumor cells using chemicals (drugs) that are designed to destroy specific types of cancer cells. There are many chemical agents used; specific drug therapies are numerous, and each regimen is usually designed for the specific type of brain cancer and individualized for each patient.


Chemotherapy is known to have many side effects. These side effects can effect homeostasis, which is property of cells, tissues, and organisms that allows the maintenance and regulation of the stability and constancy needed to function properly. Chemotherapy can impact the body's PH levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.

Physiological Effects

Coping

Discuss your concerns openly with your doctors and family members. It is common for brain cancer patients to be concerned about how they can continue to lead their lives as normally as possible; it is also common for them to become anxious, depressed, and angry. Most people cope better when they discuss their concerns and feelings. Although some patients can do this with friends and relatives, others find solace in support groups (people who have brain cancer and are willing to discuss their experiences with other patients) composed of people who have experienced similar situations and feelings. The patient's treatment team of doctors should be able to connect patients with support groups.

Resources

Brain Cancer: MedlinePlus. (2014, June 26). Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/braincancer.html


Brain Cancer: Read about Symptoms and Statistics. (2014, March 24). Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/brain_cancer/article.htm


Brain tumors - cancer - Better Health Channel. (2014, October 31). Retrieved from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Brain_cancer


Movva, S. (2014, March 2). Brain Cancer. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/cancer/brain-cancer/brain-cancer#3


Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results ProgramTurning Cancer Data Into Discovery. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/brain.html