A brain tumor is a collection, or mass, of abnormal cells in the brain. The skull, which encloses the brain, is very rigid. Any growth inside such a restricted space can cause problems. Brain tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).
When benign or malignant tumors grow, they can cause the pressure inside the skull to increase. This can cause brain damage, and it can be life-threatening.
Brain tumors are categorized as primary or secondary. A primary brain tumor originates in the brain. Many primary brain tumors are benign. A secondary brain tumor, also known as a metastatic brain tumor, occurs when cancer cells spread to the brain from another organ, such as the lung or breast.
How quickly a brain tumor grows can vary greatly. The growth rate as well as the location of a brain tumor determines how it will affect the function of the nervous system.
Symptoms Of A Brain Tumor
- Among the most common of all brain tumor symptoms, headaches have a range of types and causes. About half of all people with a brain tumor report experiencing headaches.
- Many brain tumor patients describe their headaches as a persistent pain with the following features:
- Steady pain, but different than a migraine headache
- Worse when you first wake up, getting a bit better over the next few hours
- May be accompanied by vomiting
- May be accompanied by new neurological problems
- May or may not be throbbing (depending on the tumor’s location)
- May get worse with coughing, exercise, or a change in position
- Does not respond to over-the-counter pain medication (like aspirin or ibuprofen)
- A seizure is an episode caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Common features of seizures include:
- Sudden onset
- Loss of consciousness and body tone, followed by twitching and relaxing muscle contractions
- Loss of control of bodily functions
- Short periods of no breathing (30 seconds); skin may turn dusky blue
- Short duration (2-3 minutes)
- After the seizure passes, the person may feel sleepy or confused, have a headache or sore muscles, or experience brief weakness or numbness.
- There are many different types of seizures, depending on which area of the brain has the abnormal electrical signals.
- Seizures can be common in people with brain tumors. In some cases, a seizure is the first clue that an individual has a brain tumor.
- Brain can tumors often affect memory. Changes in a patient’s short-term memory are often more noticeable than effects on long-term memory.
- Clinical, or major, depression goes far beyond a case of “the blues.” Major depression is persistent and can interfere with every aspect of daily life. Symptoms may include prolonged feelings of sadness that is often disproportionate to the situation, loss of interest or pleasure in things that used to be enjoyable, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, insomnia, decreased energy, and even thoughts of suicide.
- Depression is common among both brain tumor patients and their loved ones. Estimates suggest that more than 1 in 4 people with a brain tumor suffer with a major depressive disorder.
- Mood swings are sudden, unexplained changes in mood. You can be content one moment, and very angry the next without any reason why. Mood swings are common among people diagnosed with a brain tumor.
- Unlike tumors in another part of the body, brain tumors have the ability to affect a person’s personality. Someone who was once driven and motivated before a brain tumor diagnosis can now be passive and inhibited. Or someone who was once described as sweet and kind could become irritable and controlling. This is one of the most difficult symptoms for caregivers to live with. Loved ones can feel frustration or sense of loss for the person they knew “before.”
- Changes in cognitive function – the brain’s ability to reason, remember, and learn – are a common symptom among brain tumor patients. In some cases, these changes are so subtle that the patients themselves are more aware of their difficulties than are those around them. In others, it is the caregiver rather than the patient who first recognizes that something is different.
- Cognitive changes commonly fall into a few broad categories:
- Language and communication: Difficulty with verbal fluency (speaking, reading, and/or writing).
- Attention and concentration: Confusion, easy distraction, difficulty multitasking and planning.
- Executive functioning/general intellectual abilities: Decreased reasoning ability, impaired judgment, inability to connect cause and effect.
- Behavior changes often depend on the area of the brain affected by the tumor. Tumors in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes can affect behavior
- Frontal lobe: Movement, intelligence, reasoning, behavior, memory, personality, planning, decision making, judgment, initiative, inhibition, mood.
- Temporal lobe: Speech, behavior, memory, hearing, vision, emotions.
- Parietal lobe: Intelligence, reasoning, telling right from left, language, sensation, reading.
- Brain tumors can cause a number of mood, behavioral or cognitive symptoms that present or overlap like mental health disorders. If untreated, these symptoms can cause significant change in the patient’s personality, mood, and behavior. In extreme cases, these changes can lead to situations in which the patient, their caregiver, loved ones or others are placed at risk.
- Examples of neuropsychiatric symptoms include aggression, delusion, hallucination, impulsivity, mania, paranoia, psychosis, and violent behavior.
- Fatigue is a common brain tumor symptom. It can include:
- A profound lack of energy
- Feeling suddenly tired
- A heavy feeling in your limbs
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mass effect happens when a brain tumor presses on the normal tissue around it. Nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, vision problems, headaches, and behavior changes are common symptoms.
- Focal, or localized, symptoms are those that affect a particular area of the brain. They can often help identify the location of the tumor. Examples include:
- Hearing problems (such as ringing or buzzing sounds or hearing loss)
- Decreased muscle control
- Lack of coordination (feeling clumsy)
- Decreased sensation (feeling numb or tingly)
- Weakness or paralysis
- Difficulty walking or speaking
- Balance problems
- Double vision
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