Brain cancer refers to the abnormal cell growth in the brain and areas around it that lead to the formation of a mass or lump known as a tumor. This mass formation inside the head affects the brain’s functioning and could be life-threatening.
What causes brain cancer?
The exact brain cancer cause is still unknown. However, certain external and internal factors could exacerbate the chances of brain cancer in humans.
Factors that could predispose a person to brain cancer include:
- Genetic mutations: Change in genes or mutations caused by various factors such as exposure to ionizing radiation, like radiation therapy during cancer treatment, X-rays, or working in strong electromagnetic fields.
- Hereditary factor: Family history is also responsible for the faulty gene transfer from one generation to the other which can cause brain cancer later in life.
- Additionally, head injuries, history of head surgeries, certain viruses, or metastasis of cancerous cells from other body parts could also cause brain cancer.
What are the signs or symptoms of brain cancer?
Signs and symptoms of brain cancer may include:
- Frequent headaches that tend to worsen
- Vision changes
- Speech or hearing impairment
- Memory impairment
- Personality changes
- Weakness or numbness in a specific body part
- Balance disorder
- Loss of control
- Walking troubles
- Inability to concentrate
- Sleep issues
- Nausea or vomiting
You must note, though, that even if you have some of the symptoms mentioned above, you necessarily may not have brain cancer. Several other issues often cause the signs and symptoms mentioned above. Therefore, correct diagnosis is critical.
What is the Possible Brain Cancer Treatment?
Brain cancer treatment depends on the patient's stage, location of cancer, and overall condition of the malignant tumor. Various brain cancer treatment approaches include:
- Surgery: Surgical interventions remove the cancerous mass from the brain. In addition, steroids and anti-seizure medications may be administered to reduce brain swelling and control seizures.
- Radiotherapy: High-intensity radiation is used to destroy the cancerous mass.
- Chemotherapy: Anti-cancer medications are given to kill the malignant tumor cells. This therapy is usually given along with radiotherapy or post-surgery.
- Targeted therapy: Specific medications targeting the tumor cells/tissues are administered, sparing the healthy cells.
- Alternating electric field therapy: A device is used to create a strong electric field outside a person’s head to interfere with the tumor cells and inhibit their growth.
What is the risk factor(s) for brain cancer?
Risk factors for brain cancer include the following:
- Age: Kids and the elderly are at increased risk of developing brain cancer.
- Sex: Males are at increased develop brain cancer compared to females.
- Exposure to chemicals: Exposure to harmful substances such as rubber, pesticides, solvents, vinyl chloride, etc., increases the risk of brain cancer.
- Family history: Approximately 5% of brain cancers are attributed to family history.
- Race and ethnicity: White people are at an increased risk of developing brain cancer compared to people of colour.
- Exposure to radiation and electromagnetic fields increases the risk of developing brain cancer.
- Head injury, history of seizures, history of infections, allergies, viral infections, and use of N-nitroso compounds in diet or supplements are also known to increase the risk of developing brain cancer.
What are the stages of brain cancer?
Brain cancer has four grades:
- Grade I: Characterized by slow-growing cancer cells that are benign.
- Grade II: Characterized by malignant tissue and abnormal brain cells that are unlikely to proliferate.
- Grade III: Characterized by malignant, rapidly growing, abnormal cells that are anaplastic – with a distinctive, abnormal appearance.
- Grade IV: Characterized by active division and growth of cancer cells that start spreading to other organs and tissues.
What is a test for brain cancer?
The typical test starts with diagnosing the patient’s medical history, signs, symptoms, and physical examination, followed by imaging tests.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the most commonly used test to obtain detailed pictures of the various parts of the brain to identify the affected area. In addition, doctors may order tissue sampling (biopsy) for the final diagnosis in some cases.
In addition, various confirmatory tests such as Computerized Tomography (CT) scan, Positron emission tomography (PET)-CT scan, cerebral arteriogram, spinal tap, myelogram, and biomarker tumor testing could be recommended to confirm the diagnosis.
What is the primary prevention of brain cancer?
There is no way to prevent brain cancer. However, the following tips could reduce the primary risk of developing brain cancer:
- Avoiding exposure to chemicals: Avoid harmful chemicals such as rubber, pesticides, solvents, vinyl chloride, etc.
- Avoiding radiations and solid electromagnetic fields: Avoid exposure to radiations and strong electromagnetic fields that can cause brain cancer.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor, and you should quit smoking to reduce the risk of developing brain cancer.
- Avoid the use of supplements or foods that contain N-nitroso compounds
Is there any secondary prevention for brain cancer?
Secondary prevention aims to reduce the risk of complications and recurrences following treatment. The following measure can be taken:
- Regular follow-ups: Follow-ups should be made as per the schedule to assess the recovery, risk of recurrence, and overall quality of life.
- Symptom watch-out: Always look for symptoms of recurrence or complications and seek immediate medical attention.
- Lifestyle: Exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet.
- Manage weight and diabetes: Managing diabetes, obesity, and weight will help to reduce the chances of complications or recurrences.
- Awareness: Being aware of the disease and having realistic expectations helps better planning and management.
What is the alternate name for brain cancer?
Brain cancer is also known as a malignant brain tumor.
What is the differential diagnosis of brain cancer?
The clinical manifestation of brain cancer could mimic various other medical conditions such as:
- Meningitis (inflammation of the brain membranes)
- Orbital optic neuritis
- Brain abscess
- Chronic subdural hematoma
- Essential tremors
- Intraocular optic neuritis
- Arteriovenous malformation
Hence, a differential diagnosis is required to rule out the symptoms or the conditions that may overlap with brain cancer and its symptoms.
Some notable brain cancer epidemiological data includes:
- In children below 14 years of age, brain cancer is the leading cause of cancer-associated deaths.
- Brain cancer is more prevalent among older adults.
- The chances of a person developing brain cancer in a lifetime are less than 1%.
- Males are more likely to develop brain cancer compared to females.
Expected prognosis of brain cancer?
The prognosis of brain cancer depends on the age, stage of cancer, and response to treatment. The treatment is more effective in the initial stages, and the survival rate is higher. The chances of 5-year survival are more than 75% in children under 15 years of age.
The natural progression of brain cancer
Untreated brain cancer will progress to various brain tissues. The rapidly dividing and growing cells will invade nearby tissue and organs such as the spinal cord, eyes, etc. Highly metastatic cancer will spread to distant organs causing significant disability.
Pathophysiology of brain cancer
Mutations in the genes lead to uncontrolled cells that divide and form a mass/ tumor in the brain cells and tissues. These cancerous cells commonly originate from the brain cells, including astrocytomas, glioblastomas, oligoastrocytomas, and ependymomas. Once the cell growth is out of control, it spreads to surrounding tissues and organs.
What are the possible complications of brain cancer?
Various complications of brain cancer include:
- Inability to communicate
- Vision issues
- Balance disorder
- Severe headaches
- Memory loss
- Prolonged sleepiness
- Breathing difficulties
- Inability to concentrate, etc.
In addition, untreated brain cancer can spread to other tissues and distant organs, leading to organ-specific complications. At times, brain cancer could be fatal.
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