Mentioning the word “brain tumour” is enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine. The fear surrounding the term may be because of the confusion that surrounds it. Brain tumor diagnosis can be challenging, but it is important to note that not all of them are cancerous. Most brain tumours are benign and non-cancerous. This World Brain Tumour Day, we explain the difference between malignant and benign brain tumours.
What is a brain tumour?
A brain tumour is defined as an abnormal growth or mass of cells inside the brain. The brain is quite complex – different regions are responsible for different functions. Any abnormal growth of cells inside the head can increase the pressure on surrounding nerves, blood vessels, and tissues. There’s a lot of pressure put on the brain from tumours. They can cause life-threatening complications and impair brain function.
What are some of the symptoms of a brain tumour?
Typical signs and symptoms of different types of brain tumours vary depending on their location, size and rate of growth. However, some of the common ones include:
Frequent headaches that are specially even more severe in the morning
Chronic fatigue or tiredness
Vision problems such as blurred or double vision
Nausea and vomiting
Slurring of speech
Weakness in an arm or leg
Facial numbness, usually on one side
Confusion and disorientation
Changes in personality and behaviour
Difficulty in maintaining balance
What causes a brain tumour?
The cause of tumour cell formation in the brain is unknown. It is generally believed that brain tumors are caused by abnormalities within a cell’s chromosome and can’t work properly. Researchers have shown that there are certain factors linked to an increased risk of developing brain tumours, such as:
The risk of developing brain tumours (malignant tumours) increases as you get older in age. It is especially high among those aged between 65 and 79 years.
Cancer radiation therapy and fallout from nuclear explosions may increase risk of brain tumours.
Cases of inherited genetic syndromes such as neurofibromatosis, Turcot syndrome, Gorlin syndrome, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome (TP53 gene) are linked to an increased risk of brain tumours.
No history of chickenpox:
There are a bunch of studies that say having had chickenpox can reduce your risk of getting a brain tumor later on in life by upto 21%.
How do you tell if a brain tumour is fatal??
Brain tumours are classified into 2 categories – benign and malignant.
Benign Brain tumours
Benign or Non-malignant tumors are usually localized to one area and do not spread to other tissues. They have clearly defined borders which makes it easier to remove them surgically. Though benign brain tumors are not aggressive, they can still cause serious health problems and might lead to a life-threatening situation. They can irritate the surrounding tissues and increase pressure on the brain. Once benign tumours are removed, they rarely come back. However, the possibility of their re-occurrence still exists. Some benign tumours are schwannomas, chordomas, craniopharyngiomas, gangliomas and anaplastic gangliogliomas.
Malignant Brain tumours
You don’t want a malignant brain tumor. These tumors start in the brain and grow faster than benign ones before quickly spreading to other parts of the body. A lot of the time, cancerous tumours start off in another part of the body then spread to the brain. Although it is rare for brain cancer to progress to other organs, it can spread and affect other areas of the central nervous system. Some of the most common types of cancerous brain tumours are gliomas, ependymomas, medulloblastomas and the deadliest disease known as GBM.
How to know if you have a brain tumour?
When speaking to your doctor about your symptoms, you’ll be prompted to talk about some specific points. This may include the following: your symptoms, overall health, any history of medical conditions in the family in question and whether there are any other causes for concern. They may give you a neurological exam that includes checking your vision, hearing, physical balance, muscle strength and reflexes. Confirming a diagnosis may require some tests, which can include :
Imaging tests: Tests such as your MRI, CT, and PET imaging will give you detailed pictures of the brain.
Biopsy: Occasionally, it may be necessary to conduct a biopsy in order to find out the type of lesion and whether or not it’s cancerous.