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Brain Cancer

Also called: Glioma, Meningioma

There are two main types of brain cancer. Primary brain cancer starts in the brain. Metastatic brain cancer starts somewhere else in the body and moves to the brain. Brain tumors can be benign, with no cancer cells, or malignant, with cancer cells that grow quickly.

Brain tumors can cause many symptoms. Some of the most common are
  • Headaches, usually worse in the morning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in your ability to talk, hear or see
  • Problems with balance or walking
  • Problems with thinking or memory
  • Muscle jerking or twitching
  • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
No one knows the exact causes of brain tumors. Doctors can seldom explain why one person develops a brain tumor and another does not.
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Brain Cancer Causes

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
  • An inherited (genetic) risk
  • HIV infection
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Environmental toxins (for example, chemicals used in oil refineries, embalming chemicals, rubber industry chemicals)

Exams and Tests

If findings of a medical interview and physical examination suggest to the health-care provider that a person may have a problem in the brain or brain stem, additional tests may be done.
  • Many people will have a CT scan of the brain.
  • This test is like an X-ray but shows more detail in three dimensions.
  • Usually, a harmless dye is injected into the bloodstream to highlight abnormalities on the scan.
People with brain cancer often have other medical problems; therefore, routine laboratory tests may be performed.
  • These include analysis of blood, electrolytes, liver function tests, and a blood coagulation profile.
  • If the person has mental-status change as the main symptom, blood or urine tests may be done to rule out drug use.
The standard way of evaluating the nature and extent of a brain tumor is an MRI scan.

Brain Cancer Treatment

Treatment for brain cancer should be individualized for each patient. Treatment regimens 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. Often, more than one treatment type is used. The treatment types are further described below.

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