Must-know facts about brain cancer

June 16, 2017

Brain cancers are classified as cancers of the Central Nervous System as per the World Health Organisation (WHO). Since genetic mutation is one of the fundamental causes of brain cancers, it can affect people regardless of their age, sex, location or medical history. Thus, awareness regarding its signs and symptoms is of paramount importance in order to increase the chances of early diagnosis.

The size, location and aggressiveness of the tumour determines the severity with which you are likely to experience the symptoms of brain cancer. While symptoms can be varied, the most common ones are discussed below. 

Severe headaches caused by intracranial pressures are one of the early symptoms of brain cancers. They are often accompanied by nausea or vomiting and blurred vision. If these three symptoms persist despite consumption of over-the-counter medication, one of the possibilities could be a growing brain tumour. 

Other symptoms may vary depending on the lobe of the brain affected. Cancers in the frontal lobe result in decreased reasoning abilities, changes in personality, inappropriate social behaviour and weakness of hands and legs. In case of tumours in the temporal lobe, loss of memory and difficulty in comprehending language are common symptoms. If cancers affect the parietal lobe, it may result in poor interpretation of written language, decreased spatial and visual perception and poor sense of touch or pain. When the occipital lobe is affected, loss of vision, decreased eye co-ordination are observed. Poor balance, lesser hand and leg co-ordination and lack of proper posture are signs of tumours in the cerebellum. Occurrence of seizures or fits without prior records could also be one of the signs of brain cancers. 

All brain tumours are not cancers. Some are benign or harmless and others can be cancerous in nature. Two to three people per 1,00,000 are diagnosed with brain cancers making it one of the rarest cancers in India. There are many types of brain cancers characterised by size, location, cell of origin and grade of tumours. There are two kinds of tumours; ones that germinate and grow in the brain are called primary tumours. Secondary tumours, also termed as metastatic tumours affect certain parts of the body such as lung, breast, kidney, stomach and intestine and spread to the brain gradually. Metastatic tumours are more frequent than primary tumours. 

Once symptoms are observed, the patient needs to undergo clinical tests so that his/her neurological condition can be assessed. The doctor may advise a CT scan followed by different types of MRI scans to diagnose the grade of cancers. Tumour removal is carried out to determine the aggressiveness of the tumour. This procedure requires opening of the skull and maximal tumour removal surgically. Special surgical monitoring methods are available to minimise post-operative complications.

Grades of tumours

Tumours can be categorised into four grades based on the nature of the tumour cells. 

Grade I: tumour looks benign and grows slowly resulting in higher survival rate. Grade II: tumour cells look slightly abnormal, although growth rate is slow. Grade III: cells look abnormal and grow aggressively. Tumours tend to recur. Grade IV: cells look abnormal and spread to other surrounding brain tissue quickly. 

Patients with Grade IV brain tumour (Glioblastoma multiformae) have poor survival (median 14.5 months with all modalities of treatment. There are multiple treatment procedures for brain cancers determined by type/grade of cancers, age and general fitness. For Grade I and II tumours, surgical removal may be sufficient with regular monitoring with MRI scan. In case of Grade III and IV, malignant tumours are killed by administering radiation therapy and chemotherapy. 

The only proven risk factor for brain cancers is genetic mutation which can occur either at birth or develop during a person’s lifetime. There is no particular habit responsible for causing brain cancers; nonetheless, a healthy lifestyle is an apt way to keep at bay further complications during treatment. 

Post-treatment care includes psychological support, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Beware of risks, long-term side effects of the treatment procedures and be watchful of persisting common symptoms. 
Since brain cancers can affect anybody at any point in life, awareness of its symptoms, facts and treatment options is indispensable for early diagnosis and efficient mitigation.