A brain tumor is a group of abnormal cells that start growing in the brain. Sometimes these tumors are benign (non-cancerous) which is why doctors refer to them as “brain tumors” rather than “brain cancers.”
But, brain tumors can also be a group of malignant (cancerous) cells. Doctors refer to both types as “primary brain tumors” because they start in the brain versus tumors that start elsewhere in the body and then spread to the brain.
The growth rate and location of primary tumors varies greatly, but any of these tumors can cause damage if they place pressure on, or spread to, normal tissues in your brain. Recent achievements have changed the standard of care for certain benign and malignant brain tumors resulting in the extension of post-diagnosis life expectancy.
Brain Tumor Symptoms
Brain tumor symptoms may occur gradually, or they may happen suddenly. The most common symptom is a headache that gets worse over time. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting. Some people experience dizziness and develop balance problems. Tumors can even cause a change in behavior and personality. The tumor’s location has a great deal to do with symptoms, e.g., tumors in or near the part of the brain responsible for language can cause problems with speech, while tumors in or near the optic nerve can cause vision problems. As many as half of the people who have brain tumors will have seizures at some point. Swelling in the brain or a blockage of cerebral fluid caused by a brain tumor can also result in slipping into a coma.
Risk Factors for Brain Tumors
- Radiation exposure
- Family history of brain tumors
- Immune system disorders
- Age – brain tumors are more common in children and older adults
Types of Brain Tumors
There are many kinds of primary brain tumors, all named for the type of cells or part of the brain where they started. However, a few types predominate:
How Brain Tumors are Diagnosed
The cancer specialists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and Jefferson’s Brain Tumor Center provide a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing brain tumors, including what type of tumor and pinpointing the location. First, we’ll discuss your symptoms and medical history with you and conduct a thorough physical examination. We’ll schedule a series of diagnostic imaging tests to help us visualize all the areas in your brain, including diffusion tensor imaging and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. A highly accurate diagnosis can be made by examining brain tissue taken during a biopsy, which may be done as its own procedure or as during surgery to remove the tumor.
If you think you may be at an increased risk of developing a brain tumor because of your genetics, the experts at Jefferson’s Clinical Cancer Genetics Service can provide genetic risk assessment, genetic counseling and genetic testing.
Jefferson has the most advanced, noninvasive treatment options for brain tumors in the Delaware Valley, including Shaped Beam Surgery™ and fractioned stereotactic radiosurgery that targets the tumor without damaging surrounding tissues. Jefferson specialists developed unique techniques to treat malignant gliomas that have resulted in nearly doubling patient median survival rates. Your personalized treatment plan may include a combination of therapies, including:
- Watchful Waiting – Observing the tumor over time to see if it will grow and become a problem
- Surgery – Removing the tumor from your brain
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) – A form of targeted radiation therapy that focuses high-power energy on a small area of the body
- Gamma Knife Surgery – Precisely directing radiation to the problem area while sparing healthy nearby tissues
- Chemotherapy –Using anticancer drugs to kill tumor cells
- Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy – Also called IMRT, this therapy uses external energy to kill tumor cells
- Brachytherapy – Inserting radioactive implants directly into the tissue to kill tumor cells
Why Choose Jefferson for Brain Tumors?
Jefferson’s brain tumor program is one of the busiest in North America, performing more than 1,000 surgeries annually and using pioneering techniques to treat a wide variety of benign and malignant brain tumors. The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and Jefferson’s many programs and services including our Brain Tumor Center, Minimally Invasive Cranial Base Surgery Center and Stereotactic Radiosurgery Program coordinate efforts to bring unparalleled medical expertise to aid each and every patient.
We’re rated at one of the nation’s best hospitals for cancer treatment by U.S.News & World Report, and we are one of only 69 National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the U.S. Our world-renowned specialists are also pioneering new approaches to benign and malignant tumor treatment that have resulted in preservation or restoration of hearing or sight, as well as extension of life expectancy. Jefferson’s brain tumor specialists are conducting clinical trials focusing on leading edge treatments that can transform tumors into manageable chronic diseases or cure them altogether.
Clinical trials are the best way patients can receive new therapies and procedures. To find out if a clinical trial might be right for you, ask your health care provider or contact the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Clinical Research Management Office at 215-955-1661.
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