Early diagnosis can be an important factor in the outcome of tumors in the brain. Brain tumors are the second leading cause of cancer death in children under age 15 and the second fastest growing cause of cancer death among those over age 65. Over the next year, more than 100,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Tumors that begin in brain tissue are known as primary brain tumors and are classified by the type of tissue in which they originate. The most common brain tumors are gliomas, which begin in the glial or supportive tissue. There are several types of gliomas:
There are other types of brain tumors that do not begin in glial tissue. Some of the most common are described below:
Metastasis is the spread of cancer. Cancer that begins in other parts of the body may spread to the brain and cause secondary tumors. These tumors are not the same as primary brain tumors. Cancer that spreads to the brain is the same disease and has the same name as the original or primary cancer. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the brain, the disease is called metastatic lung cancer because the cells in the secondary tumor resemble abnormal lung cells, not abnormal brain cells.
Treatment for secondary brain tumors depends on where the cancer started and the extent of the spread as well as other factors, including the patient's age, general health and response to previous treatment.
The symptoms of brain tumors depend on their size and location in the brain. Symptoms often are caused by damage to vital tissue and pressure on the brain as the tumor grows within the limited space in the skull. They may be caused by swelling and a buildup of fluid around the tumor, a condition called edema. Symptoms also may be due to hydrocephalus, which occurs when the tumor blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and causes a build-up in the ventricles.
If a brain tumor grows very slowly, its symptoms may not appear for some time. The most frequent symptoms of brain tumors include:
To find the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will ask about your personal and family medical history and perform a complete physical examination. In addition to checking general signs of health, your doctor will perform a neurologic exam. This includes checks for alertness, muscle strength, coordination, reflexes and response to pain. Your doctor also examines the eyes to look for swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the nerve that connects the eye and the brain.
Depending on the results of the physical and neurologic examinations, your doctor may request one or both of the following:
Treatment for brain tumors depends on a number of factors including the type, location and size of the tumor as well as the patient's age and general health. Treatment methods and schedules differ for children and adults.
Brain tumors are treated with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Our doctors also are studying a vaccine for treating a recurrent cancer of the central nervous system that occurs primarily in the brain, known as glioma.
Depending on your needs, several methods may be used. Our team includes neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, a dietitian and a social worker, who work together to provide the best possible care.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.