Brain cancer is a disease of the brain in which cancer cells (malignant cells) arise in the brain tissue (cancer of the brain). Cancer cells grow to form a mass of cancer tissue (tumor) that interferes with brain functions such as muscle control, sensation, memory, and other normal body functions.
Tumors composed of cancer cells are called malignant tumors, and those composed of mainly noncancerous cells are called benign tumors. Cancer cells that develop from brain tissue are called primary brain tumors while tumors that spread from other body sites to the brain are termed metastatic or secondary brain tumors.
TYPES OF BRAIN CANCER
Brain tumors are often classed as benign or malignant.
Benign brain tumors: These brain tumors are not as aggressive as malignant tumors. The mass or growth of abnormal cells does not contain cancer cells. Benign brain tumors grow slowly and tend not spread into other tissue.
Malignant brain tumors: This type of brain tumor does contain cancer cells and also tends not to have clear borders. These tumors are considered more dangerous as they grow rapidly and can invade other parts of the brain.
WHAT ARE BRAIN CANCER CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS?
As with tumors elsewhere in the body, the exact cause of most brain tumors is unknown.
The following factors have been proposed as possible risk factors for primary brain tumors, but whether these factors actually increase an individual’s risk of a brain tumor is not known for sure.
- Radiation to the head
- A hereditary (genetic) risk
- HIV infection
- Cigarette smoking
- Environmental toxins (for example, chemicals used in oil refineries, embalming chemicals,rubber industry chemicals)
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS OF BRAIN CANCER
Not all brain tumors cause symptoms, and some (such as tumors of the pituitary gland, some of which cause no symptoms) are found mainly after death, with the death not caused by the brain tumor. The symptoms of brain tumors are numerous and not specific to brain tumors, meaning they can be caused by many other illnesses as well. Many people have no awareness that they have brain cancer. The only way to know for sure what is causing the symptoms is to undergo diagnostic testing. Early symptoms may not occur; if they do, they occur for the following reasons and are listed below:
- The symptoms are caused by the tumor pressing on or encroaching on other parts of the brain and keeping them from functioning normally.
- Some symptoms are caused by swelling in the brain primarily caused by the tumor or its surrounding inflammation.
- The symptoms of primary and metastatic brain cancers are similar in men, women, and children.
Treatment for brain cancer should be individualized for each patient. Treatment plans are based on the patient’s age and general health status as well as the size, location, type, and grade of the tumor. In most cases of brain cancer, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the main types of treatment.