Brain Cancer

  • Overview


    A brain tumour forms when cells grow and divide in an uncontrollable way. When this occurs, the tumour takes up space within the skull and can interfere with the brain’s normal activity.

    A tumour may cause damage by increasing pressure in the brain, by shifting the brain and causing it to push against the skull, and/or by invading and damaging nerve and healthy brain tissue.

    Brain tumours can be benign or malignant (brain cancer).


    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted and adapted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/brain-cancer-brain-tumour-spinal-cord-tumour/

    © Cancer Council NSW 2014


    Symptoms


    The symptoms of a brain or spinal cord tumour depend on where it is located and if it is causing pressure in the skull  or spinal column. Sometimes, when a tumour grows slowly, symptoms develop gradually or you may not take much notice of them. They may be similar to other illnesses, such as a migraine or a stomach bug (e.g. headaches or nausea).

    Brain and spinal cord tumours may cause weakness or paralysis in parts of the body. Some people also have trouble balancing or have seizures.

    Other symptoms of brain tumours include:

    • nausea and/or vomiting
    • headaches
    • drowsiness
    • difficulty speaking or remembering words
    • short-term memory problems
    • disturbed vision, hearing, smell or taste
    • loss of consciousness
    • general irritability, depression or personality changes – this is sometimes only noticed by family or friends.

    Symptoms of spinal cord tumours include:

    • back and neck pain
    • numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
    • clumsiness or difficulty walking
    • loss of bowel or bladder control (incontinence).

    Most people who have common symptoms, such as a headache, do not have a tumour. However, new or worsening symptoms should be reported to your doctor.


    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted and adapted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/16980/b1000/brain-cancer-brain-tumours-12/brain-and-spinal-cord-tumour-symptoms/?pp=32273&cc=9541&ct=3

    © Cancer Council NSW 2014


    Diagnosis


    Your GP will probably arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. You will usually be referred to a neurologist, who will arrange further tests and advise you about treatment options.

    Tests to diagnose brain cancer:

    • Physical examination
    • CT (computerised tomography) scan
    • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan

    Other tests that are sometimes used are:

    • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) scan
    • Single photon emission computerised tomography (SPECT or SPET) scan
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
    • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
    • Surgical biopsy
  • Surgery


    Surgery in the central and peripheral nervous system is called neurosurgery. In many cases, removing all or part of the tumour may allow you to lead an active life for some time. However, you may also have other treatments.

    Some tumours can be removed by neurosurgery. This type of operation is called a gross total resection. In other cases, the surgeon may only be able to remove part of the tumour. This is called a partial resection or debulking. Partial removal may be because the tumour is widespread, near major blood vessels, or cannot be removed without damaging other important parts of the brain or spinal cord. A partial resection may improve your symptoms by reducing the pressure on your brain.

    Sometimes a tumour cannot be removed because it is too close to certain parts of the brain and would cause serious problems. This is called an inoperable or unresectable tumour. Your doctor will talk to you about other ways to try to ease the symptoms.


    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/76407/cancer-information/cancer-treatment/types-of-treatment/surgery-for-brain-and-spinal-cord-tumours/?pp=32275&cc=254&&ct=3

    © Cancer Council NSW 2014


    Radiotherapy for brain and spinal cord tumours


    Radiotherapy (also called radiation therapy) is a type of treatment that uses high-energy x-ray beams to kill or damage cancer cells.The radiation is specifically targeted at the treatment site to reduce the risk of damage to healthy cells. The treatment is painless.

    Before your radiotherapy begins, you will need to have an appointment to plan it. This is often called a simulation appointment, because you will be put in the exact position needed for your treatment.

    A radiation therapist will take measurements of your body, as well as doing an x-ray or CT scan, to work out the precise area to be treated. For spinal cord tumours, some small tattoos may be marked on your skin to indicate the treatment area. For brain tumours, a face mask – also called a cast – is made to keep the head in position. It is a tight-fitting mesh, but you will only wear it for about 10 minutes at a time. However, let the radiation therapist know if wearing the mask makes you uncomfortable.

    Radiotherapy treatment is usually given once daily, from Monday to Friday, for several weeks. However, the course of your treatment will depend on the size and type of the tumour.


    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/76408/cancer-information/cancer-treatment/types-of-treatment/radiotherapy-for-brain-and-spinal-cord-tumours/?pp=32275&cc=254&ct=3

    © Cancer Council NSW 2014


    Chemotherapy for brain and spinal cord tumours


    Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Generally, chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream and damage or destroy rapidly dividing cells such as cancer cells, while causing the least possible damage to healthy cells. Healthy fast-growing cells, such as your bone marrow, may also be affected, causing side effects.

    However, it can be difficult to treat brain tumours with chemotherapy drugs because the body has a protection system called the blood-brain barrier. This guards the brain from substances circulating in the blood, such as germs or chemicals, that could harm it. Only certain drugs can get through this barrier.

    You may be given chemotherapy by taking an oral capsule or through a drip inserted into your vein (intravenously). Each treatment session is usually followed by a rest period of a few weeks.

    Some patients who have a craniotomy have small, dissolvable chemotherapy wafers inserted into their brain during surgery. The wafers release drugs into the brain over a couple of weeks. As the drug is placed directly at the tumour site, it doesn’t affect other areas of the body and so reduces the chance of side effects.

    Chemotherapy is often combined with radiotherapy for the treatment of glioblastomas (grade 4 tumours). This combination improves outcomes, compared with radiotherapy alone.


    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/76409/cancer-information/cancer-treatment/types-of-treatment/chemotherapy-for-brain-and-spinal-cord-tumours/?pp=32275&cc=254&ct=3

    © Cancer Council NSW 2014


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