A brain tumour is a cancerous or a non-cancerous mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Most common brain tumours develop from cells that support the nerve cells of the brain — glial cells. These tumours are called glioma. Brain tumours can also be named after the part of the brain they are growing in. There are more than 120 different types of brain tumours showing different symptomatology. Some patients don’t show any symptoms and it’s easy to brush off the symptoms as they are broad and don’t appear life-threatening at first.
Here are some facts you should know about brain tumours:
- Primary brain tumours: These tumours originate in the brain.
- Secondary or metastatic brain tumours: These tumours originate in another part of the body and spread to the brain through the bloodstream. These are the most common type of brain tumours among adults.
- Benign or low grade tumours (I or II): These tumours are relatively slow growing and are less likely to come back if completely removed. They are also not likely to spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord. Usually, surgery suffices for treatment and radiotherapy and chemotherapy are not required, unless some benign tumours regrow at a slow rate. If the tumour’s position suggests that surrounding tissue could be damaged by surgery, removal may have to be reconsidered.
- Malignant or high grade (III or IV): These tumours are life-threatening and relatively fast growing. They are likely to come back after surgery, even if completely removed and may even spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy are required to try to stop it from coming back.
Brain tumours can manifest with several symptoms depending upon the part of the brain affected. Headaches and/or vomiting/nausea caused by intracranial pressure — pressure caused on the skull by the growing tumour — are the most common complaints. These headaches can be severe and persistent and, often, the worst in the morning and on coughing or exertion. Intracranial pressure can also manifest as visual disturbances, convulsions (fits or fainting spells, especially in those over 40s) and confusion. Other common symptoms are:
- Loss of balance or co-ordination
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body, resulting in stumbling or lack of coordination
- Changes in personality
- Impaired memory or mental ability manifesting as — loss of intellect, blurred or double vision, changes in senses (including smell and impaired hearing), problems with speech, writing or drawing and problems with averting the eyes upwards.
Symptoms that depend upon the position of the tumour:
- Brain stem: Lack of co-ordination when walking, double vision, difficulty in swallowing and speaking and facial weakness in the form of one-sided smile or a drooping eyelid.
- Cerebellum: Flickering and/or involuntary movement of the eyes, vomiting and stiffness of the neck and uncoordinated walking and speech.
- Temporal lobe: Speech difficulties and memory problems and strange sensations – fear, blackouts, strange smells, déjà vu etc.
- Occipital lobe: Gradual loss of vision on one side.
- Parietal lobe: Problems with reading, writing or simple calculations, navigation-related difficulties, numbness or weakness in one side of the body and difficulty in understanding words or speaking.
- Frontal lobe: Unsteadiness and weakness on one side of body, changes in personality and loss of smell. These symptoms can be symptomatic of other illnesses and don’t necessarily signal the presence of a tumour. However, if these symptoms are persistent, a proper check-up is recommended to prevent acute complications later.