Brain Tumors Brain Tumors

Brain Tumors

A tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells. Cells like these don’t receive signals to turn off, or stop growing, so they keep multiplying. Though there are more than 100 kinds of brain tumors, they are divided into two basic types.

Primary tumors start in the brain. They can be malignant or benign.

Secondary tumors are also known as metastatic tumors. These are tumors that have spread from cancer in another part of your body. In some cases, you may not even be aware of the cancer until it reaches the brain. Secondary tumors are generally malignant and cancerous.

Brain tumors can affect both children and adults. According to the National Brain Tumor Society, about 75,000 patients receive a primary-site diagnosis each year in the United States; a mid-range estimate of patients who have a metastasized brain tumor is about 200,000.

Symptoms

Symptoms of brain tumors depend on the type, size and location of your tumor. As the tumor grows and puts pressure on different areas, your symptoms may change.

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Vision problems
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Behavior and personality changes
  • Vomiting

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Causes

There is no known cause for the development of a primary brain tumor. There are some risk factors: brain tumors are more common as we age, and if you have had exposure to radiation, especially in the area — for example, radiation therapy for another cancer — you are more at risk.

Secondary tumors, which spread from other cancers, have a few known sources. About half of all brain tumors have metastasized from lung cancer. Other cancers that might spread to the brain include breast, colon, and kidney cancers, as well as melanoma.

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Living Better

If your tumor affects the part of your brain that controls speech, you may want to see a speech therapist; or, if motor control becomes an issue, you may enlist help from a physical or occupational therapist. Rehabilitation efforts may be temporary while you learn new ways to do things, or you may want to work with support professionals for a longer period of time.

Emotional support is key. Find a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist who can work with you to navigate. There might be a support group available in your area as well; social workers can help you make the right connections.

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Exams and Tests

Your physician at St. Luke’s Brain & Spine Tumor Center will take a complete medical history, including a family history. During your physical exam, you’ll be checked for any possible lumps, and you’ll answer questions about your health habits. A neurological exam would include tests and questions that check both your brain functions and coordination, as well as how your muscles and reflexes work.

Another exam that could be administered is one regarding your field of vision. And if your family has a history of brain tumors, your doctor may do genetic testing to look for an inherited condition.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can be used to isolate the location of a tumor. If a brain tumor is found, positron emission tomography(PET) scan may be performed as well. This test determines if there is cancer present in any other part of your body. Once an initial diagnosis is confirmed, a biopsy may be taken.

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Treatment

The type of treatment depends on your age (adult or child); your medical history; the type, location and size of the tumor; whether it is benign or malignant; and whether it is primary or the result of a cancer that has metastasized.

Surgery

Though surgery is often considered last when treating other conditions, it may be the best line of defense when treating a brain tumor, depending on its location in the brain. St. Luke’s is the first in the region to be able to perform laser interstitial thermal therapy(LITT), a procedure that uses minimally invasive MRI-guided laser technology to target and destroy cancerous brain tumors. With this advanced laser technology, it is possible to reach some tumors previously considered inoperable.

Radiation Therapy

In this course of treatment, high energy beams are used to shrink or kill tumor cells. St. Luke’s is able to perform frameless stereotactic radiosurgery, a procedure that uses precise, 3D computerized planning and imaging to deliver a highly concentrated dose of radiation to a targeted tumor or lesion, which reduces radiation exposure to normal, healthy tissue.

Chemotherapy

The most common chemotherapy used for cancer in the brain is in pill form. There are some targeted drug therapies used that focus on cancer cells, working, for example, to break down their ability to receive nutrients, or blocking their abnormalities.

Sometimes all three treatments are used in conjunction.

Another treatment possible at St. Luke’s is neurostimulation implantation. Performed by St. Luke’s fellowship-trained functional neurosurgeons, this highly advanced procedure is used to help alleviate pain and disability associated with brain tumors.

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