What is a brain tumour?
A brain tumour is a growth in the brain which is produced by abnormal multiplication of cells. It comes in two main forms: primary brain tumours develop in the brain, while secondary brain tumours spread from cancer in another part of the body. Brain tumours are graded according to their severity and how quickly they will grow – benign brain tumours are likely to grow slowly and unlikely to spread, while malignant brain tumours are liable to grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body. Brain tumours are quite rare and there are around 4,700 cases of malignant brain tumours diagnosed in the UK every year.
What causes brain tumours?
In the majority of cases, the origin of brain tumours is unknown but there are some risk factors you should be aware of:
- Age – most cases of brain tumours affect older people. However, certain types of tumours also affect children, with brain tumours the second most common form of childhood cancer
- Genetic conditions – some cases of brain tumours affect people with genetic conditions, including neurofibromatosis type 1 and 2
Symptoms of a brain tumour
- Sickness and drowsiness – caused by increased pressure inside the head
- Changes in personality – these are attributed to tumours developing in certain areas of the brain
Headaches are very common and many of the other symptoms are associated with common health conditions. However, it is always a good idea to see your GP, especially if the symptoms do not pass.
How are brain tumours diagnosed?
If you have persistent experience of the above symptoms it is a good idea to see your GP. If your GP suspects a tumour, they will refer you to either a neurologist (brain specialist) or an oncologist (cancer specialist). At the hospital your physician will perform a number of tests, including a physical examination and tests on your nervous system, which may involve arithmetic tests, a balance test and an eye examination. Further tests including MRI and CT scans will also be used.
Treatment for a brain tumour
Treatment for a brain tumour depends on the size, location and grade of the tumour. Surgery may be carried out to remove the tumour, but this is not always possible. A combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy may also be used to destroy cancerous cells and shrink the tumour. Treatment will be delivered by a multi-disciplinary team.
What is the outlook for people with a brain tumour?
The outcome of treatment will depend on the grade of the tumour and the size and position of the growth. Around 36 percent of individuals with malignant brain tumours survive for more than a year after diagnosis, while fewer than 10 percent survive for more than 10 years.
Living with a brain tumour
It can be very tricky to accept that you have a brain tumour, especially if you have a grade 3 or 4 tumour. A dedicated care team will be available to help and you can contact cancer charities for support.