Brain Cancer

by Aby Hughes

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What is cancer?

Cancer is a malignant and invasive growth or tumor, especially one originating in epithelium, tending to recur after excision and to metastasize to other sites.

How Does Cancer Start?

Well, let's start with the basics. Our bodies are made up of about 100,000,000,000,000 (one hundred million million cells). In a human that is cellularly “healthy,” the body creates just enough of each specific cell. Cells send out signals to control cell division. If cells are faulty or potentially missing, then the body overproduces these cells. All of these over produced cells pile up to create a tumor. In some cases, these tumors turn out to be non-malignant, (non-cancerous). Inside our cells we have tiny strands of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Inside these strands of DNA we have chromosomes or genes. Genes are what makes sure that cells divide in a regular pattern. Not too often and not too scarcely. What exactly is a mutation? A mutation is when a gene has been damaged, lost, or copied twice during mitosis. There need to be about a half a dozen different mutations before a cell becomes “cancerous.” Not all mutations happen by cell division, some external stimuli cause cells to inherit these mutations.

What Genes Are Affected?

"We now know that two genes -- C/EPB and Stat3 -- are the disease's master 'control knobs,'" researcher Antonio Iavarone, MD, associate professor of neurology in the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Center at Columbia University Medical Center, says in a news release. "When simultaneously activated, they work together to turn on hundreds of other genes that transform brain cells into highly aggressive, migratory cells."

Symptoms vs Locations

Most tumor locations determine symptoms and treatments. Some basic symptoms of brain cancer are:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headaches that often are worse in the morning

  • Seizures (convulsions)

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs

  • Stumbling or lack of coordination when walking

  • Abnormal eye movements or changes in vision

  • Drowsiness

  • Changes in personality or memory

  • Changes in speech

  • Changes in hearing

  • Changes in mood

  • Changes in mental capacity and concentration

  • Recurring, persistent, deep, dull headaches.

  • Dizziness.

  • Changes in sensory perceptions, such as vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

  • Changes in personality and/or thought processes.

  • Abnormal pulse and breathing rates.

Some tumors are slow growing, which makes discovering these tumors harder. Other types of tumors grow quickly making symptoms appear fairly quickly. As brain tumors grow, the brain can swell and fluid may form. This can cause intracranial pressure, AKA, pressure inside the skull. As pressure increases, it affects more parts of the brain which in turn creates more symptoms. The symptoms are subjective to the location of the tumor. Meaning, if you have a tumor on your spinal cord or the bones around the spinal cord your symptoms might include:

  • back or neck pain
  • weakness
  • pain
  • tingling or numbness in hands, feet, arms, or legs
  • loss of sexual function
  • loss of bladder/bowel control
Each tumor has a different set of symptoms!

Interestings Facts!:

  • More than 17,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with a brain tumor.

  • Nearly 70,000 new cases of primary brain tumors will be diagnosed this year.

  • More than 4,600 children between the ages of 0-19 will be diagnosed with a brain tumor this year.

  • Brain and central nervous system tumors are the most common cancers among children ages 0-19.

  • There are nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. living with a brain tumor.

  • This year, nearly 14,000 people will lose their battle with a brain tumor.

  • There are more than 120 types of brain tumors.

They are the

  • leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children (males and females) under age 20 (leukemia is the first).

  • second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in males ages 20-39 (leukemia is the first).

  • fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in females ages 20-39.

How Does Cancer Affect Whole Body Systems?

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Is It Life-Threatening?

As with all cancers, yes, it is life threatening. Mainly because the tumor is on the brain, and the brain is what regulates all body systems.

What are some treatment options?

  • Steroids, to relieve swelling.

  • Anticonvulsants, to prevent or control seizures.

  • Radiation therapy, to destroy tumor tissue that cannot be removed with surgery or to kill cancer cells that may remain after surgery, or when surgery is not possible.

  • Chemotherapy, to kill cancer cells.

  • Brachytherapy, to destroy tumor cells from the inside (internal radiation therapy).

  • Bevacizumab (avastin), a biologic drug that blocks the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors.

  • Immunotherapy, including cytokine therapy, passive immunotherapy, and active immunotherapy, which help bolster the immune system to fight the tumor.

  • Surgery, to remove the tumor if possible

The three that are most commonly used are radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. Once a patient has started those treatment options, more than likely they would be put on anticonvulsants and some type of steroid.

Disease Mechanism

Think of the body as a well oiled, and well maintained machine. If one thing is thrown off in the machine, it affects everything else. Same way with the human body. If there is a malignant tumor anywhere, it is life threatening. Since we are on the topic of brain cancer, let's discuss how the disease mechanism works for brain cancer. Since the brain is the central part of human anatomy, it is vital to the existence of the human race. Without the brain sending and receiving impulses from the rest of the body, than the body would ultimately fail. When someone gets a tumor in their brain, it begins to affect the whole body. The way the cancer affects the body is shown through physical manifestations, AKA symptoms.

What Is The Best Way To Treat A Patient?

I believe that the best way to treat a patient is surgery, if possible, followed by radiation. Also, treatment is very dependent on the symptoms that are manifested. If there is swelling or intracranial pressure, I would prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation. For seizures I would obviously prescribe an anticonvulsant.