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Brain Cancer

  • Overview Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment
Overview

Brain Cancer is a disease of the brain where cancer cells arise in the brain tissue. These cells grow to form a mass of cancer tissue that interferes with brain functions such as muscle control, sensation, memory and other normal body functions. Tumours composed of cancer cells are called Malignant Tumours and those composed of mainly Non-cancerous Cells are called Benign Tumours. Cancer cells that develop from brain tissue are called Primary Brain Tumours while tumours that spread from other body sites to the brain are termed Metastatic or Secondary Brain Tumours.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually develop over time and their characteristics depend on the location and size of the tumour. The following symptoms are usually associated with brain cancer:

  • Behavioural and emotional changes

  • Impaired judgment

  • Impaired sense of smell

  • Memory loss

  • Paralysis on one side of the body

  • Reduced mental capacity

  • Vision loss and inflammation of the optic nerve

  • Impaired speech

  • Inability to write

  • Lack of recognition

  • Seizures

  • Spatial disorders

  • Difficulty in speaking and swallowing

  • Drowsiness

  • Headache, especially in the morning

  • Hearing loss

  • Muscle weakness on one side of the face

  • Uncoordinated gait

  • Vomiting

  • Headache

  • Hearing loss

  • Impaired speech

  • Mental and emotional changes

  • Prolonged drowsiness (somnolence)

  • Seizures

  • Vision loss

Causes

Primary brain tumours may develop in different parts of the brain. Metastatic brain cancer is caused by the spread of cancer cells from a body organ to the brain. However, the causes for the change from normal cells to cancer cells in both metastatic and primary brain tumours are not fully understood. Data gathered by research scientists show that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop brain cancer.

Individuals with risk factors, such as having a job in an oil refinery, handlers of jet fuel or chemicals like benzene, chemists, embalmers & rubber-industry workers, show higher rates of brain cancer than the general population. Some families have several members with brain cancer, but heredity as a cause for brain tumours has not been proven. Other risk factors such as smoking, radiation exposure and viral infections like HIV, have been suggested, but not proven to cause brain cancer. There is no evidence that brain cancer is contagious, caused by head trauma or caused by cell phone use.

Diagnosis

The initial test is an interview that includes the medical history and physical examination of the person by the doctor.

The most frequently used test to detect brain cancer is a CT scan. This test resembles a series of X-rays and is not painful, although sometimes a dye needs to be injected into a vein for better images of some internal brain structures. Another test that is gaining popularity because of its high sensitivity for detecting anatomic changes in the brain is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). This test also resembles a series of X-rays and shows the brain structures in detail better than a CT scan. MRI is not as widely available as a CT scan.

If the tests show evidence (tumours or abnormalities in the brain tissue) of brain cancer, other doctors such as Neurosurgeons and Neurologists that specializes in treating brain ailments will be consulted to help determine what should be done to treat the patient. Occasionally, a tissue sample (biopsy) may be obtained by surgery or insertion of a needle to help determine the diagnosis. Other tests may be suggested by the health-care practitioner to help determine the patient's state of health or to detect other health problems.

Treatment

A treatment plan is individualised for each brain cancer patient. The treatment plan is constructed by the doctors who specialise in brain cancer, and treatments vary widely depending on the cancer type, tumour location, tumour size, patient age and patient's general health status. A major part of the plan is also determined by the patient's wishes. Patients should discuss treatment options with their healthcare providers.

Surgery, Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy are the major treatment categories for most brain cancers. Individual treatment plans often include a combination of these treatments.

Surgery

Surgery attempts to remove all of the tumour cells by cutting the tumour away from normal brain tissue. This surgery is often termed invasive surgery to distinguish it from non-invasive radiosurgery or radiation therapy described below.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy attempts to destroy tumour cells by using high-energy radiation focused onto the tumour to destroy the tumour cells' ability to function and replicate. Radiosurgery 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 tumour or other abnormality is located, minimising the amount of radiation to healthy brain tissue. Equipment used to do radiosurgery varies in its radiation source; a gamma knife uses focused gamma rays and a linear accelerator uses photons, while heavy-charged particle radiosurgery uses a proton beam.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy attempts to destroy tumour 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 individualised for each patient. Chemotherapy can be administered intrathecally (by a spinal tap or through a surgically placed permanent reservoir under the scalp attached through a sterile tubing placed into the fluid-containing chambers in the brain), by IV administration, and biodegradable chemically impregnated polymers. All treatments attempt to spare normal brain cells.

Other treatment options may include Hyperthermia (heat treatments), Immunotherapy (immune cells directed to kill certain cancer cell types) or steroids to reduce inflammation and brain swelling. These may be added to other treatment plans.