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How much do you know about brain tumors?

Published: 30 Apr 2019

Many countries, including the UK, Canada and Australia, recognise Brain Tumor Awareness Month in May. But no matter where in the world you are, spreading the word and making people aware of brain cancers is vital.

Unless you’ve been directly affected by brain cancer, like most people you probably won’t know much about this type of cancer…. so we’ve scoured the internet to present the facts.   Please help raise awareness by sharing this post… you could save a life.

A brain or spinal cord tumor occurs when abnormal cells grow and form a mass or a lump. The tumor may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), but both types can be serious and may need urgent treatment. 

According to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Cancer Fund Research International, global numbers of brain tumors are not as common as many other cancers. Globally, there were 260,000 new cases of brain and nervous system cancers around the world in 2012. However, the mortality rate for brain cancers is higher in comparison to the number of new cases each year. 

The Facts

Please note reported statistics do vary slightly from country to country and year to year

Risk factors

Brain tumors can be either primary or secondary. Primary tumors start in the brain and are unlikely to spread. Secondary tumors have spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body through the bloodstream.

If you are diagnosed with a brain tumor it can be benign, malignant or slow growing. However, all brain tumors, including non-cancerous, should be monitored closely by your medical team - some benign tumors can develop into a malignant tumor. It is called malignant transformation or progression to malignancy.

Some people are at a higher risk than others:

The Symptoms

Many people diagnosed with a brain or spinal cord tumor first seek medical attention because they are feeling unwell - early symptoms can be thought to be something else. Some brain tumors grow slowly and symptoms develop gradually, so you may not be aware that anything is wrong at first. In other cases, symptoms appear suddenly. 

General symptoms may be caused by increased pressure in the skull. In approximately 30-40% of cases the first warning sign of a brain tumor is a seizure. Pressure can build up because the tumor itself is taking up too much space or because it is blocking the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain.

Because the cancer is relatively rare there is no official screening programme – so it’s vital people watch out for the related symptoms.

Diagnosing a brain tumor

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and give you a physical examination to assess your nervous system to check how different parts of the brain and body are working, including your speech, hearing, vision and movement. 

You may then be sent for an MRI and/or CT scan.  There are also other tests doctors can use that assess brain function such as the chemical make-up, message pathways and blood flow. Other more invasive tests may be required to ascertain a diagnosis including the removal and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, tissue and tumor cells to look for gene changes.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with a brain tumor, your treatment will depend on several factors such as size, type, and grade of the tumor, whether the tumor is putting pressure on vital parts of the brain and whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body.

Benign brain tumor (non-cancerous)

Benign (non-cancerous) brain tumors can usually be successfully removed with surgery and don't usually grow back. It often depends on whether the surgeon can safely remove all of the tumor. If there's some left, if can either be monitored with scans or treated with radiotherapy.

Malignant brain tumor (brain cancer)

Surgery - the will surgeon aim to remove as much of brain tumor as possible and try to stop it coming back. A small section of skull is removed and the tumor is cut out before the piece of skull is fixed back in place.

Your medical team may also use one or more of the following treatments to control the cancer cells to reduce the chance of the tumor growing back:

Radiotherapy - You might have radiotherapy on its own, or after surgery. You usually have a type of radiotherapy called external beam radiotherapy. For a small brain tumor, you may have stereotactic or radiosurgery. It targets high doses of radiation to a small area. 

Chemotherapy - You might have it after surgery to lower the chances of the tumor coming back, or to treat a tumor that has returned. You may have chemotherapy on its own or with radiotherapy. 

If you’ve been affected by a brain tumor cancer, or any other type of cancer, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support group. You’ll find thousands of people who are fighting cancer right now, and happy to offer advice and give support. 


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