Warning Signs of a Brain Tumor

The symptoms described below may indicate a brain tumor or another neurological disorder. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

  • Seizure. Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience a seizure for the first time.
  • Loss of movement or sensation. Gradual loss of movement or sensation in part of your body can indicate a growing brain tumor.
  • Unsteadiness. Problems with balance, especially if accompanied by a headache, may be caused by certain brain tumors. Loss of balance should always be checked by your doctor.
  • Visual changes. Partial, temporary, or gradual loss of vision—or double vision that occurs along with a headache—should never be ignored. Tell your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any changes in your vision.
  • Hearing loss. Loss of hearing, especially in young to middle-aged adults, can result from certain brain tumors. Hearing loss due to a brain tumor is sometimes (but not always) accompanied by dizziness.
  • Difficulty speaking. Gradual changes in your ability to speak or to use speech correctly (such as a persistent inability to recall words) should never be ignored. Tell your doctor about even minor changes in your ability to communicate.
  • Behavior changes. Gradual—sometimes barely noticeable at first—changes in behavior and emotional stability can indicate a brain tumor. Memory loss, inability to concentrate, confusion, depression, apathy, and mood swings are sometimes symptoms of a brain tumor.
  • Headache. Certain types of headaches are more likely to be caused by a brain tumor: a constant headache that is worse in the morning and eases slightly as the day goes on; a persistent headache that is accompanied by nausea or vomiting; or a headache that is accompanied by double vision, weakness, or numbness. If you experience any of these types of headaches, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of brain tumors include headaches and numbness or weakness in the arms and legs. The headaches tend to become more severe and

Common

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Concerns last longer as the tumor grows, and they may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. If the tumor disturbs the normal flow of electrical signals through the brain, seizures can occur. Pressure on certain nerves can lead to vision or hearing problems. Tumors that arise in the cerebrum, especially toward the front of the brain, can alter normal behavior, personality, memory, language, and learning skills. Tumors located toward the base of the brain can lead to weakness or paralysis (partial or complete loss of movement), lack of coordination, or difficulty walking.

A tumor on or near the spinal cord can disrupt the flow of sensory information (including pain) to the brain, or movement commands from the brain to the body. Pain caused by a spinal cord tumor may feel like it is coming from elsewhere in the body. Such pain is usually constant, sometimes severe, and often described as burning or aching. Tumor-related changes in sensation include numbness and decreased sensitivity to temperature. Because all muscles are controlled by nerves, tumors in the spinal cord can cause weakness, spasticity (stiffness and restriction of movement), paralysis, difficulty walking, or loss of bladder or bowel control.

Tests to diagnose a tumor in the brain or spinal cord include computed tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; see "Diagnostic Procedures," page 342). You may also have cerebral angiography (see "Diagnostic Procedures," page 342)—an examination of the arteries deep inside the brain to assess the tumor's type and determine its exact position. Another possible test is an electroencephalogram (EEG), in which electrodes are attached to your scalp to monitor the electrical activity in your brain and help determine if the tumor is causing seizures or otherwise affecting brain function.

Specialized surgical techniques may be used to remove the tumor. Microsurgery uses a high-power microscope that allows the surgeon to view and access delicate brain tissue. Laser surgery uses powerful, concentrated beams of light to destroy the tumor. Ultrasonic aspiration uses high-frequency sound waves to break up the tumor and an aspirator to vacuum up the pieces. If a tumor cannot be removed and the flow of cerebrospinal fluid inside the brain or skull is blocked, a flexible tube called a shunt will be inserted to reroute and drain the fluid, relieving pressure on the brain.

If a tumor is malignant (cancerous) and cannot be removed completely, radiation therapy probably will be used to destroy tumor cells and shrink the tumor. Because radiation therapy destroys only dividing cells, it is particularly useful for treating brain tumors. Doctors use CT scanning and MRI to help focus treatment on the tumor and prevent radiation damage to healthy brain tissue.

Chemotherapy (treatment with powerful anticancer drugs) is used to shrink or destroy tumors. Other medications may also be used to relieve problems associated with the tumor. For example, corticosteroids are often prescribed to control the swelling in the brain or spinal cord that can result from a tumor.

Brain and Nervous System

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