Brain cancer, also referred to as brain tumor, is the abnormal growth of cells in or around the brain. This cancer can originate in the brain or the cancer can start in other parts of the body and then spread to the brain. Different parts of the brain may be affected by cancer and all of these show different signs and symptoms. Some of the common symptoms include headaches and seizures. Some others exhibit changes in mental behavior, have a problem with their vision and vomit frequently.
Causes of Brain Cancer :
Unfortunately, the exact causes of brain cancer are not known and tumors can vary greatly in terms of severity. Brain cancer can be either primary, that is the cancer originates in the brain itself, or secondary, in which the cancer starts elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain. Primary cancer is much rarer than secondary cancer.
Some of the risk factors which may lead to brain cancer include :
- Age : With an increase in age, the chances of brain cancer go higher. That being said, tumors can occur at any age and some types are also only exclusive to young children.
- Radiation Exposure : Exposure to ionizing radiation can lead to brain cancer. Other forms of radiation are not linked to tumors in the brain.
- Hereditary Brain Tumors : A history of brain tumors in the family increases the risk of being affected by brain cancer.
Symptoms of Brain Cancer :
Symptoms of both primary and secondary tumors can be divided into three major categories:
- Intracranial hypertension : The tumors in the brain cause extra pressure, which result in vomiting and nausea, headaches, altered conscious states and dilation of the eye pupils.
- Dysfunction : Depending on the type of the cancer, impairment of judgment and changes in behavioral pattern are common. Cognitive functions are also impaired in some cases.
- Irritation : General fatigue is felt throughout prolonged periods. These are also accompanied with tremors and sometimes, epileptic fits.
Signs of Brain Cancer :
The type of the tumor, its location in the brain and other factors influence the signs of brain cancer. Some of the common signs include:
- New headaches and constant change in patterns of headaches
- Gradual worsening of headaches
- Nausea and vomiting in totally unexpected situations
- Changes in vision and problems with peripheral vision
- Loss of sensation and movement in a limb
- Difficulty in balancing the body
- Difficulty with speech
- Behavioral and personality changes
- Incoherent and confused thinking
- Difficulty with hearing
Tests for Detecting Brain Cancer :
The primary test for detecting brain cancer is checking if the blood brain barrier has been ruptured. Detection of tracers in the brain indicates a disruption of the barrier. These can be detected through specific tests like the CT scan and MRI scan. There is no specific test or single symptom which can diagnose brain cancer in particular. The presence and persistence of a combination of symptoms or infections could lead to testing for rupture of the blood brain barrier. While characteristics of brain tumor are similar to other forms of cancer, some persistent symptoms are specific only to brain cancer.
Brain Cancer Diagnosis :
If brain cancer is suspected, the following diagnosis procedures are carried out:
- Neurological Examination : These are carried out to check for impairment of normal everyday activities such as coordination, balance and other senses. Impairment in one or more of these tests could indicate brain cancer.
- Imaging Tests : These are also CT scans and MRI tests in which a specific dye is injected into the blood and then analyzed by tomography and imaging tests.
- Checking for cancer in other areas of the body which may have led to brain cancer.
- Performing a biopsy by collecting a sample of the abnormal cell tissue.
- Specialized genetic and testing at the molecular level is also carried out for diagnosis and prognosis of brain cancer.
Prognosis of The Disease :
Brain cancer can vary greatly depending on the size and the location of the tumor. As such, the outlook for patients varies greatly with each case. The type of the tumor and its grade greatly affect the outlook. Generally, a lower grade corresponds to a more positive outlook.
Different locations of tumors cause different types of damage to the patient. The functional status and age of the individual also plays an important role in determining outlook. If the tumor is recurrent or is a metastatic spread, the prognosis is poorer. If all of the tumor can be surgically removed, prognosis is better. Certain biogenetic markers in the tumors can indicate whether treatment will be successful or not.
Prevention of Brain Cancer :
Since the exact cause of the disease is unknown, prevention of the disease is very difficult. Screening tests can be carried out if one is suspected to be at risk but is not exhibiting symptoms of the disease. However, there are no standardized screening tests. If someone is exposed to risk factors such as radiation exposure, autoimmune disorders or has a history of the disease in the family, screening tests should be carried out to detect brain cancer at the earliest.
Types of Brain Cancer :
Brain cancer can be classified into two types, primary tumors which originate in the brain itself and secondary tumors which spread to the brain from other parts of the body. Some of the different types of brain tumors include:
- Schwannomas or Acoustic Neuromas
- Pituitary Adenomas
- Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumors
- Germ Cell Tumors
Brain cancer can lead to some very serious and many life threatening complications. Some of these include:
- Sudden death due to obstructed flow of fluids in the brain and the spinal cord.
- Cerebral hernia, a condition in which the brain is forced through openings in the skull.
- Strokes due to hemorrhage which may lead to paralysis, loss of vision, loss of hearing or eve loss of consciousness.
Home Remedies :
Some of the following home remedies help in the control of brain cancer:
- A folic acid rich diet helps in prevention of spreading of the cancer cells.
- Antioxidants such as blueberries, strawberries and grapes help prevent brain cancer.
- Indirubin obtained from the indigo plant has been used traditionally to help control brain tumors.
- Resins from the BoswelliaSerrata help in reducing inflammation and prevent edema in the brain.
- Organic vegetables and fruit juices help prevent cancer.
- Extracts of Brazilian Peppers, the Alchemilla Vulgaris plant and the LigusticumPorteri plants help show improvements in brain cancer patients. Maitake mushrooms and wolfberries are also reported to show similar effects.
Once diagnosed, treatment of brain cancer could include one or more of the following:
- Surgery for complete or partial removal of the tumor.
- Radiation therapy using x-rays or gamma rays.
- Other experimental therapies are also available for treatment for specific types of cases.
Some Interesting Facts about Brain Cancer :
- It is estimated that there are 13,000 cases of death from brain tumors every year in the US.
- Over 2,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with brain cancer in the US every year.
- Some types of brain tumor are specific only to children.
- In the UK, brain cancer is the eighth most common type of cancer.