What are brain tumors?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue inside the skull. 

Not all brain tumors are malignant (cancerous), though any growth inside the skull can pressure sensitive tissues and affect function.

The brain is part of the central nervous system (CNS), which also includes the skull and the spinal column. 

Brain tumors are divided into two categories: primary tumors and metatastic, or secondary, tumors.

Primary tumors

Tumors that start in the brain are called primary tumors. Most tumors of this type are caused by:

  • Uncontrolled cell growth among cells that surround neurons
  • Genetic diseases, such as neuofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis
  • Age 
  • Family history
  • Radiation exposure
  • Carcinogen exposure

There are a number of primary tumors, which are usually named after the cells from which they originate. They include:

  • Acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas)
  • Chordomas
  • Ependymomas
  • Germ cell tumors
  • Gliomas (including glioblastomas)
  • Medulloblastomas
  • Pineal-region tumors
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Schwannomas

Metastatic tumors

Metastatic, or secondary, tumors in the central nervous system are caused by cancer cells that separate from a primary tumor located in another area of the body.

Brain tumor symptoms

Symptoms of brain tumors include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Hearing changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Seizures
  • Unsteadiness
  • Unclear thinking

Diagnosis and treatment

If a brain tumor is suspected, the following tests may be used to diagnose and type it:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Neurological exam
  • Biopsy

Brain tumor treatment depends on several factors:

  • Tumor size
  • Type
  • Location
  • Growth rate
  • Overall health

Several procedures may be necessary to treat the brain tumor. These treatments may include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiosurgery, such as Gamma Knife or Cyber Knife
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy

Treatment may affect regions of the brain that control physical function, speech, vision and thinking. Because of this, neuro-rehabilitation may be necessary once treatment is complete.


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