Brain cancer is a rare disease effecting one out of every five-thousand people in the U. S. Eighty-five percent of cases occur in adults that are over the age forty and as for the other fifteen percent it is seen in children and young adults up to the age of twenty. Research has also found that more men are affected by brain cancer than women. There are two classifications of a brain tumor that are formed. One is called primary brain cancer. A primary brain tumor occurs when one type of cell changes it characteristics and multiplies in abnormal ways causing a tumor or mass to grow in the brain.
The most common primary brain tumors are gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors. These brain tumors are called primary because they start and form in the brain. The second type of brain tumor is called metastatic brain cancer. Metastatic brain tumors are caused by cancerous cells in a tumor elsewhere in the body. These cancerous cells spread to the brain from a cancerous tumor in the body causing a cancerous tumor in the brain. This process is called metastasis. This process occurs in about twenty-five percent of tumors found in the body.
There are many types of brain tumors. Not all tumors found in the brain are cancer. Tumors can be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). A malignant tumor is a cancerous tumor that in some cases can spread to other parts of the brain. A benign tumor is a non-cancerous tumor found in the brain that does not spread. Just because a benign tumor is not cancer doesn’t mean it is not life threatening. Even with a benign tumor the skull cannot expand to accommodate for the mass growing inside. Even if a tumor is benign it still needs special treatment and care.
Even if the tumor is not cancer at the time there is a chance some cases it can become malignant. Both malignant and benign tumors need treatment and removal. They are both considered life threatening. Symptoms vary depending on what part of the brain is being infected. The most common symptoms for both primary and metastatic brain cancer are weakness, change in personality and memory, difficulty walking, seizures, and headaches. These signs/changes are hard to describe and commonly go un-noticed. Headaches are one of the most common signs. These headaches are not always persistent or severe.
Another more common sign is nausea and vomiting. The nausea and vomiting is not related to food. These signs occur in about twenty-five percent of people with a brain tumor. In many cases symptoms of brain cancer go un-noticed by the person with the brain tumor and their families. These symptoms will sometimes progress and become more noticeable as the caner progresses. There are many types of procedures used to identify brain tumors. A few of these procedures include X-rays, CT scan, EEG, and MRI. The most common type of procedure given is usually a CT scan.
A CT scan is similar to an X-ray but gives more details in three dimensions. It is very important for a brain tumor to be diagnosed correctly. It has been found that people with brain tumors often have other medical problems and should have lab tests performed on them while being diagnosed. These lab tests include analysis if blood, electrolytes, liver function tests, and a blood coagulation profile. In some cases there is a change in your mental status blood and urine tests may be done to test for use of drugs. The course of the tumor and treatment is very different for each tumor.
Every tumor is different and requires different treatment and care. Brain cancer is classified according to the type of cell in the tumor and its histological grade (meaning progress of the tumor and how different the tumor cells are from the cells near it). This is very important because the treatment depends on the cell type. Whether a tumor is malignant or benign they both are deadly and require treatment. Death is caused by the tumor pressing on vital structures and raising the intracranial pressure where blood supply to the brain is delayed.
Treatment vary depending on many factors such as, the location of the tumor, its size and type, age of patient, and any current medical problems the patient being treated has or has had. Once the tumor is diagnosed the best treatment will be decided. Treatments most widely used to treat a tumor are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In a lot of cases more than one of these treatments is used. All tumors must be surgically removed or shrunk by a neurosurgeon to reduce affects on the brain. The best option if possible is to have the tumor surgically removed.
Unfortunately with most cases a tumor can’t be surgically removed because it is too deep in the brain and/or the tumor is located in a very important part of the brain. In some cases treatment is given before surgery to help shrink the tumor and lessen affects the tumor may have, such as seizures, dizziness and headaches. Surgery of a brain tumor can be performed for two reasons. These reasons are to confirm the type of tumor and see if the tumor is able to be removed. In some cases mostly occurring in benign brain tumors the tumor is able to be removed and all symptoms can be completely cured.
Unfortunately all cases are not this simple and require a series of treatments and procedures. Sometimes before you can go through surgery you may be given a steroid drug such as dexamethasone. This steroid is given to help relieve swelling in the brain. Another drug that may be given to you is called an anticonvulsant drug that helps relieve and/or prevent seizures. Another problem people with brain cancer are examined for is excess cerebrospinal fluid that collects around the brain. If this excess fluid if found it will need to be drained.
This is done by a thin plastic tube called a shunt. One end of the shunt is placed in the cavity where the fluid is collecting and the other end is put under your skin to another part of your body. The fluid the drains from your brain into another part of your body where it can be easily removed. Some other treatments used for brain cancer are radiation therapy, external radiation and chemotherapy. There are two forms of radiation therapy. External radiation and internal radiation. External radiation targets tumors using a high energy beam.
This beam travels through the skin, the skull, healthy brain tissue, and other tissues to get to the tumor. This treatment is usually given five days a week and each treatment only takes a few minutes. Internal or also referred to as implant radiation is when a small radioactive capsule is placed inside of the tumor. Radiation is then emitted from the capsule and destroys the tumor. The radioactivity in this capsule starts off high then each day slowly decreases. This capsule is carefully made and the radioactivity is calculated so when the optimal dose has been given the capsule will run out.
This treatment requires a patient to stay in the hospital while receiving the treatment. The next treatment used for brain cancer is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy kills the tumor with the use of powerful drugs. Depending on the severity of the tumor a single dose or combination of drugs may be used. There are two ways these drugs can be given. One is orally by mouth or through an IV line. Occasionally some drugs are given through the shunt that is placed in your brain to drain the excess fluid. Chemotherapy is given in cycles.
A patient will go through intensive treatment which is usually a short cycle and is then given a period to rest and recover, cycles usually only last few weeks. The side effects of chemotherapy can be very severe. The severity all depends of the patient and how well their body can tolerate the treatment. The most common side effects seen in chemotherapy include nausea and vomiting, mouth sores, loss of appetite, loss of hair, among many others. Luckily for some patients some of these side effects can be relieved or lessened by medication.
There are many new types of brain cancer treatments being developed and improved. Clinical trials are offered for new therapies. The downsides to trials are they may not always for or have the same results for everyone. Brain cancer treatments have been proven to extend the survival rate in short term and improve the quality of life. Brain cancer is a rare and tragic. Survival rate of brain cancer all depends on the type of cancer, its location, whether it can be surgically removed or reduced in size, your age, and other medication problems.
These are the main factors for the survival of brain cancer. The survival rate for long-term (greater than five years) for people with primary brain cancer are less than ten percent. Unfortunately this is the patients that have received aggressive surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. For people with metastatic brain cancer it has been found that most deaths occur from their primary cancer not from the brain lesions. Chances of long term survival for brain cancer are low. The chances are greater for long-term survival with treatment than no treatment. The exact cause of brain cancer is unknown.
There have been risk factors found. For metastatic brain cancer links have been found such as genetic factors, various environmental toxins, radiation, and cigarette smoking. As for primary brain cancer there have been risk factors that have been found such as radiation to the head, certain inherited conditions, and HIV infection. It is not known for sure whether these factors actually increase your risk of brain cancer. In most cases there is no clear cause shown for what exactly causes brain cancer. In conclusion brain cancer is a rare and serious disease.
Signs are often missed of having brain cancer and lead to death. Even with treatment and surgery the survival risk is still low. For the best chances of survival brain cancer needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. It is unknown as to what cause this disease or how the disease forms. Research is getting closer to finding out, but it is still a mystery.
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