The disease in which the cells in the brain multiply at an uncontrollable rate and in an abnormal way is known as brain tumour. The cells multiply uncontrollably as they are not regulated by the mechanism that controls the multiplication in normal cells. The tumour is either formed within the brain or the central spinal canal. It can affect any part of the brain, pressing the nerves and hampering the functions of the brain. Brain tumour can affect people of all ages – from infants to elderly people. The tumour either originates in the brain and is called as a primary tumour or it is formed when cells from a cancerous growth from another part or organ of the body like breasts or lungs spread to the brain.
Types of Tumours
Benign – Benign tumours are harmless. They do not contain cancer cells and can be removed through surgery. They can destroy healthy cells but cannot spread to other parts of the body.
The benign tumour is formed by a group of similar cells that do not follow normal cell division and growth pattern. These cells do not have characteristic appearance of cancer.
Malignant – Malignant tumours contain cancer cells. A malignant brain tumour is a fast-growing cancer that spreads through the blood stream to other areas of the brain and spine, destroying the healthy cells in healthy organs. Malignant brain tumours can be life threatening.
Although the exact cause is not known there are certain risk factors that may be responsible for triggering brain tumour:
- If a member in the family is suffering from glioma (a type of tumour that starts from brain or spine).
- Constant exposure to certain radiations or chemicals at work.
- Weak immune system – for instance if the person is suffering from HIV/AIDS or he/she is under medication that weakens the immune system.
Symptoms of brain tumour are similar to symptoms shown in common diseases, and hence it becomes difficult to diagnose. The symptoms may vary according to the size and position of the tumour. Some tumours do not show any symptoms and are detected only by chance. Symptoms are usually seen when the tumour presses the nerves or damages a part of the brain. The symptoms may include:
- Severe headache
- Nausea & vomiting
- Sickness & drowsiness
- Blurred vision
- Problem in thinking, speaking, remembering and concentrating
- Problems in balancing or walking
- Numbness in arms & legs
- Mood swings or changes in personality
In case the doctor suspects of a tumour in the brain, he may ask you to get a physical examination done, wherein your co-ordination, muscle strength, vision, memory and your reflexes may be checked. Later, you may be referred to a neurologist or a neurosurgeon. You may have to undergo a CT scan, MRI or EEG and the biopsy will be sent to the laboratory for accurate reports. The brain is well protected by the skull. Hence, an early detection of a brain tumour can only occur when diagnostic tools are directed at the intra-cranial cavity, where the tumour is usually formed.
If a tumour is detected, doctors first group the tumour into a grade, which is based on the progress of the cancer. Grade I is the lowest grade and grade IV is the highest grade. Cells from the high-grade tumour look more abnormal. They also tend to multiply faster than the cells from the low grade tumour.
The treatment of the disease depends upon the type, size, grade and position of the tumour. If it is growing slowly there are chances that you may be kept under observation or monitored by conducting routine check-ups & scans, without being given any treatment as such. In medical terms it is known as active monitoring or watchful waiting.
When the tumour is in the advanced stage, it is treated with the help of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy- the main treatment options. These treatments may either be used separately or in combination. For instance, in benign tumour, maximum number of tumour cells can be removed with the help of surgery. In malignant tumours, chemotherapy, which aims as killing as many cancerous cells as possible is given.