Is brain cancer a death sentence?
A brain tumor occurs when abnormal cells form within the brain. There are two main types of tumors: cancerous (malignant) tumors and benign (non-cancerous) tumors. Cancerous tumors can be divided into primary tumors, which start within the brain, and secondary tumors, which have spread from elsewhere, known as brain metastasis tumors. All types of brain tumors may produce symptoms that vary depending on the part of the brain involved. These symptoms may include headaches, seizures, problems with vision, vomiting and mental changes. The headache is classically worse in the morning and goes away with vomiting. Other symptoms may include difficulty walking, speaking or with sensations. As the disease progresses, unconsciousness may occur.
The signs and symptoms of brain tumors are broad. People may experience symptoms regardless of whether the tumor is benign (not cancerous) or cancerous. Primary and secondary brain tumors present with similar symptoms, depending on the location, size, and rate of growth of the tumor. For example, larger tumors in the frontal lobe can cause changes in the ability to think. However, a smaller tumor in an area such as Wernicke's area (small area responsible for language comprehension) can result in a greater loss of function. Headaches as a result of raised intracranial pressure can be an early symptom of brain cancer. However, isolated headache without other symptoms is rare, and other symptoms often occur before headaches become common. Certain warning signs for headache exist which make the headache more likely to be associated with brain cancer. These are, as defined by the American Academy of Neurology: "abnormal neurological examination, headache worsened by Valsalva maneuver, headache causing awakening from sleep, new headache in the older population, progressively worsening headache, atypical headache features, or patients who do not fulfill the strict definition of migraine".
Human brains are surrounded by a system of connective tissue membranes called meninges that separate the brain from the skull. This three-layered covering is composed of (from the outside in) the dura mater, arachnoid mater, and pia mater. The arachnoid and pia are physically connected and thus often considered as a single layer, the leptomeninges. Between the arachnoid mater and the pia mater is the subarachnoid space which contains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid circulates in the narrow spaces between cells and through the cavities in the brain called ventricles, to support and protect the brain tissue. Blood vessels enter the central nervous system through the perivascular space above the pia mater. The cells in the blood vessel walls are joined tightly, forming the blood–brain barrier which protects the brain from toxins that might enter through the blood. Tumors of the meninges are meningiomas and are often benign. Though not technically a tumor of brain tissue, they are often considered brain tumors since they protrude into the space where the brain is, causing symptoms. Since they are usually slow-growing tumors, meningiomas can be quite large by the time symptoms appear.
The brains of humans and other vertebrates are composed of very soft tissue and have a gelatin-like texture. Living brain tissue has a pink tint in color on the outside (gray matter), and nearly complete white on the inside (white matter), with subtle variations in color. The three largest divisions of the brainAlthough there is no specific or singular symptom or sign, the presence of a combination of symptoms and the lack of corresponding indications of other causes can be an indicator for investigation towards the possibility of a brain tumor. Brain tumors have similar characteristics and obstacles when it comes to diagnosis and therapy with tumors located elsewhere in the body. However, they create specific issues that follow closely to the properties of the organ they are in. The diagnosis will often start by taking a medical history noting medical antecedents, and current symptoms. Clinical and laboratory investigations will serve to exclude infections as the cause of the symptoms. Examinations in this stage may include the eyes, otolaryngological (or ENT) and electrophysiological exams. The use of electroencephalography (EEG) often plays a role in the diagnosis of brain tumors.
Journal of Clinical Oncology and Cancer Research,